Cooch Behar: Violence, latent complexities likely to seal Nisith Pramanik’s fate on Rajbanshi land

Cooch Behar (WB), Mar 27 (PTI) Much water have flown down Torsha and Jaldhaka, the two main rivers in the northern Bengal district of Cooch Behar, since junior Union minister and BJP’s incumbent Nisith Pramanik swung nearly 32 per cent votes to dislodge the Trinamool Congress from this SC-reserved Lok Sabha seat in 2019.

Once considered a fortress of the Left Front partner Forward Bloc which won the seat for an unbroken 32 years from 1977 to 2009, Cooch Behar constituency currently remains a BJP stronghold, with five of the seven assembly segments in its kitty despite TMC’s landslide victory in the 2021 state polls.

Revenge could not have been sweeter for Pramanik, a former Trinamool youth leader who joined BJP following his expulsion after the 2018 panchayat polls when he stunned his nearest TMC rival Paresh Adhikary by over 54,000 votes in the 2019 general elections. What rubbed salt in the Trinamool wound was BJP managing to swing over 13 per cent of ruling party votes in the process.

Pramanik, rewarded with the portfolios of minister of state in the home, and youth affairs and sports ministries two years later following a Union cabinet reshuffle, earned the distinction of becoming the youngest member of Narendra Modi’s council of ministers at the age of 35.

In the 2021 state polls, Pramanik’s 57-vote victory margin over his arch-rival TMC’s Udayan Guha from Dinhata assembly segment seemingly convinced the leader to fall back to his position in Parliament instead of moving to the Assembly. Guha wrested the segment from BJP by a thumping majority in the by-polls held two years later.

Re-nominated as a Lok Sabha poll candidate, Pramanik takes on Jagadish Barma Basunia – TMC’s face of the Rajbanshi community and the sitting MLA of the Sitai - as his prime challenger this time.

“My years at Narendra Modi’s ministry have brought me closer to my people,” Pramanik told PTI. “They have seen how active I have remained as an MP and a minister compared to my predecessors who left nothing but neglect for the region,” he added.

Interestingly, nomination pattern in Cooch Behar has nearly sounded the death knell for a Left-Congress overall alliance in Bengal with both sides fielding their candidates from the seat amidst their ongoing seat-sharing talks.

While the Left has fielded Forward Bloc’s Nisith Chandra Roy, the Congress has re-nominated Piya Roy Chowdhury, raising prospects of the seat witnessing a four-cornered fight.

Roy Chowdhury finished fourth in the 2019 edition of the polls, garnering a paltry 1.85 per cent of the total vote share. Her inclusion in the poll fray has not only provoked speculations on whether the Congress would end up providing a much-needed advantage to BJP by eating into the TMC vote bank, but also seems to have sparked off a dilemma within the CPI(M) ranks on which candidate to support.

“The Left and Congress have limited support in this seat and will make no difference to us, whether they fight separately or together,” Basunia asserted. “The BJP is our main adversary and we have worked hard in the past years to ensure that a large chunk of their voters will vote for us this time,” the TMC candidate said.

Dinhata, home to both Pramanik and Guha, has remained a hotspot of political violence over the years with both leaders, who do not see eye to eye, desperate to retain supremacy on their home turf.

The March 19 clashes at Dinhata Bazar between followers of the two sides which allegedly dragged both leaders into the fist fight arena, prompted police to baton-charge and forced Governor CV Ananda Bose to rush to ground zero of violence, were, what many apprehend, could merely be a trailer to confrontations yet to unfold in the region.

“These instances are reflections of the TMC’s insecurity,” Pramnik alleged, “They are resorting to all means possible to spread fear psychosis among voters since they know they have lost grassroots support.” The CISF firing incident during the Assembly polls at Sitalkuchi in 2021, which killed four youths and, subsequently, created a massive political dust-up bears testimony to the vulnerability to poll-related violence in this Bangladesh-bordering district where agriculture remains the economic mainstay.

In so far as handling of the ethnic issues of the scheduled caste Rajbanshi community, a section of who have been vocal in demand for a separate state of Greater Cooch Behar citing under development and lack of opportunities, are concerned, both TMC and BJP seem to have approached them in similar manners.

One faction of the ‘Greater’ agitators, led by Bangshibadan Burman, extended its support for the Trinamool for the upcoming polls. Mamata Banerjee named Burman as the chairman of both Rajbanshi Language Academy as well as Rajbanshi Development Board.

Building a university and naming it after Rajbanshi icon Thakur Panchanan Barma, and erecting a statue of 16th century Koch warrior Bir Chilarai are among the means used by Banerjee to reach out to the community.

The BJP wooed the other faction, led by Ananta Maharaj, by awarding a Rajya Sabha membership to the leader.

Among the staunchest promoters of ‘separate Union Territory of Cooch Behar’, Ananta Maharaj has perceptively maintained distance from the BJP of late alleging “lack of importance in the party”.

As a damage control measure, Pramanik reached out to Maharaj and also ensured his presence during the filing of nominations. Maharaj’s supporters, though, are not yet forthcoming about throwing their weight behind the BJP candidate.

A breakaway faction from the Bangshibadan Burman group, calling itself Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association, has, however, announced that its leader, Amal Das, would be fighting the polls as an Independent candidate.

Net net, Cooch Behar remains buried underneath layers of political complexities and formidable apprehensions of poll-related violence, all of which are likely to influence both voter turnout as well as their choice of candidates.

The seat goes to polls on April 19 when 24.5 lakh voters undertake their short trip to 2043 polling stations. PTI SMY NN

Disclaimer: This article is published from a syndicated feed and has not been edited by the Deccan Chronicle team

Next Story