The formidable organisational prowess of West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress is up against a surging BJP and the last remnants of the Left in the land of red soil Bankura, once a fortress of the CPI(M).
The CPI(M) and the BJP can play spoilsport for each other here and end up dividing opposition votes, much to the delight of the TMC, Barat, also an editor of a local magazine, said.
Both the CPI(M) and the BJP are playing on the fact that TMC candidate Subrata Mukherjee, a veteran in state politics, is from Kolkata, claiming that he would not be seen much if he wins the elections.
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has fielded Mukherjee, a minister in her cabinet, replacing actor-turned-politician Moon Moon Sen, who defeated nine-time CPI(M) MP Basudeb Acharya in 2014, riding on a TMC wave prevailing in the state then.
Asked about the outsider tag, Mukherjee said, "The way Narendra Modi, coming from Gujarat, is nurturing Varanasi, I will also nurture Bankura in the same manner."
He told PTI that he is no alien to the district and 13 projects of the Panchayat department, of which he is the minister, are currently in the works here.
Mukherjee had lost to Basudeb Acharya in 2009 as a TMC candidate, but had been able to significantly bring down the margin by which the CPI(M) veteran had won the 2004 elections. Acharya had got over 60 per cent of votes polled in 2004, but that came down to 47.66 per cent in 2009, with Mukherjee bagging a 36.71 per cent share.
Though BJP candidate Subhas Sarkar expressed confidence on wresting the seat from TMC this time after losing in 2014, Mukherjee refused to accept that BJP is his main opponent, saying how can a party which got a paltry share of votes in the last state elections be the main contender of TMC, seeming more adept at facing old foe CPI(M).
Sarkar had polled 2.51 lakh votes in 2014, a 20.31 per cent share of the total spoils.
CPI(M) candidate Amiya Patra, however, agreed that the BJP has increased its vote share in last year's panchayat polls in the district at the cost of the Left, but hastened to add that this does not mean that the saffron party will be able to gain in the Lok Sabha elections.
"Since we could not give candidates in many panchayats owing to TMC's atrocities, people who are our traditional supporters voted for the BJP, but now they will vote for us," Patra said.
"It is up to the people to decide whether they will vote for an outsider following the experience they had with Moon Moon Sen," he said, alleging that Sen was not available when people needed her and they had to communicate through district party leaders.
However, TMC's local leaders refuted the claims.
Patra is a resident of Taldangra, an assembly seat which he contested and lost to the TMC in 2016.
"Given our vote share in the 2016 Assembly elections and what the BJP got, it is the BJP which will play a spoilsport for us if it manages to get a good number of votes," Patra said.
"After he lost in the 2014 elections, he was not seen in BJP's campaigns in 2016 Assembly polls as also during the panchayat polls in 2018," he said.
However, BJP's Sarkar, hopeful of turning the tables on the TMC and CPI(M) this time around, said there are several factors for his party to be optimistic about the Bankura seat.
"Social injustice in panchayats in the Jangalmahal area, the TMC candidate being an outsider, a large percentage of CPI(M) voters having turned to us are some of the reasons that will see the BJP sail through," he said.
Sarkar said that people in the once Maoist-affected Jangalmahal area in Bankura, who voted for TMC to throw out CPI(M), are a dejected lot.
"During last year's panchayat elections, opposition candidates were prevented from filing nominations. Nepotism in granting facilities under various schemes to people, party colour dominating on who will get benefits, including land rights, are some of the reasons for people's annoyance," he said.
The local TMC leaders denied the allegations and said that the indigenous populace have got in the party's seven-and-half year rule what they did not since Independence.
"Development has reached the doorsteps of poor people who would earlier regard a meal of only rice and salt as a feast," said Jyoti Tudu, a party worker in a forested hamlet in Ranibandh.
There are 16,44,523 voters in Bankura, of whom 8,37,195 are male, 8,07,319 are female and 9 from the other gender. They will be voting in the sixth phase of Lok Sabha polls on May 12 in 1,936 polling stations across the constituency.
While Raghunathpur falls in the Purulia district, the rest six Assembly constituencies -- Saltora, Chhatna, Ranibandh, Raipur, Taldangra and Bankura, that makes up the Lok Sabha seat, are in the Bankura district.