The people of Kolkata remain divided over the kind of government that should be in place at the centre after the elections to the Lok Sabha, even as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fight for supremacy in the state.
However, some voters say that the destruction of the statue of social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar amid an outbreak of violence at the rally of BJP president Amit Shah earlier this week, is unlikely to help the TMC, led by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is striving to ensure that the BJP does not make a mark in the state.
“What happened was sad. But the TMC is trying to ride a sympathy plus offensive wave and cash in on Vidyasagar’s legacy. Voters are not foolish. A broken statue can’t sway public sentiment to such a large extent that it changes things for an entire political party. The TMC needs to come up with more substantial arguments," said Sharat Mukherjee, a trader in Kolkata’s Russell Street area.
Shrabanti Basu, who works as a cleaner in a south Kolkata apartment complex, is far more direct. The benefits of the centre’s schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and Ujjwala have not made their way through to them, she says. However, the TMC “is a known devil", says Basu.
The narrative is slightly different in pockets in Kolkata where polarization keeps people on tenterhooks.
“How can we vote for a party that is unwilling to grant us security? With the current dispensation, we won’t be unfairly targeted. Some of our shops have been sealed here and we have not been told why. Our businesses have suffered because of GST and demonetization and now we are trying hard to stay afloat," said Irfan Mohammed, who owns a record shop on Mirza Ghalib Street.
The two parties, which continue to trade barbs over the desecration of the statue, have drawn flak from people who are upset about the political discourse in the state.
“We have witnessed violence before, but not to this extent. None of the leaders, neither Banerjee nor Prime Minister Narendra Modi are giving us anything to bank upon. Mamata has done good work. There has been marked improvement in the roads in Kolkata, the traffic situation, and general law and order. However, the way she has been speaking is disgraceful. Even if she does not respect the man, she needs to respect the Prime Minister’s chair," said Bikram Sarkar, who teaches at a government school near Jadavpur.
On Thursday, a day after the Election Commission cracked down on the violence in West Bengal and curtailed campaigning for all parties in the poll-bound state by a day, the BJP and the TMC scrambled to grab eyeballs.
Banerjee addressed a series of public meetings and held roadshows in the city on Thursday. Modi addressed a public meeting in Dum Dum area late Thursday evening, where he took a swipe at Banerjee, hours after she had made public statements against the poll panel for “arbitrarily curtailing campaigning time".
“Why are you forgetting that the Left had created a similar situation for you and at that time constitutional bodies of the nation ensured a fair election in West Bengal. If these constitutional bodies and central forces weren’t there, you would not have been chief minister today," Modi said.
Modi “reminded" Mamata that “Bengal is not your personal fiefdom" and said that her credibility to be the Prime Minister “was questionable".
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