The office of a candidate’s election agent remaining shuttered and padlocked during day is not what one would expect to see six days before the close of campaign. But that was what awaited anyone who dropped in at the office of the election agent of CPI(M)’s Shakti Mohan Malik about the time West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was expected to arrive in neighbouring Patul on April 22 to address a public meeting for Trinamool Congress candidate Apoorva Poddar (Afreen Ali).
“This is one of the few party offices that are functioning,” said Mr. Malik’s election agent Nimoy Mal. “Apart from this (zonal) office and another one at Kamarpukur, our 250 offices in the Arambagh Lok Sabha constituency are mostly closed. Even the Kamarpukur office opens only sometimes. Many of the kutcha offices that we had have been set afire.”
To this litany of complaints about TMC attacks on CPI(M) workers and offices, Mr. Mal had one addition. Just the previous day, the party — buoyed by the response to the campaign — decided to open its Gourhati office after two years. “But around 9 p.m., some people came and tried to set fire to it.” A tall and imposing structure in an area dotted with mud huts off Dongol More, the CPI(M) office, indeed, bore signs of an attack with a police jeep standing guard the following day and locals preferring not to speak about what happened the previous night.
That the CPI(M) is under attack in an area, which is part of election trivia for having elected a party member, Anil Basu, by the highest margin of votes in India’s electoral history in 2004, is no secret. Even the police concede this; adding if there is free and fair polling, the CPI(M) may still win the seat as the TMC candidate is an outsider. But it is a tall order after the drubbing the party received in the Assembly elections though Mr. Malik had survived the TMC onslaught in 2009 when CPI(M) heavyweights Roopchand Pal and Hannan Mollah were swept away from neighbouring constituencies.
The Chief Minister’s rally did not attract the 50,000-strong gathering it was prepared to accommodate despite considerable mobilisation that saw shopkeepers in the neighbouring areas down the shutters. According to Mr. Mal, the police also told the CPI(M) not to carry out an open campaign in the area around the rally site for fear of clashes.
Though the Lok Sabha elections have emboldened the CPI(M) since election observers from New Delhi are keeping a watch on the constituency, the party claims it is still difficult to campaign openly in several areas. “We are doing a whisper campaign; canvassing votes when we meet people on the fields or the bazaar in ones and twos. People are giving us money but are afraid of taking a coupon or receipt for it,” says Mr. Mal.
While the CPI(M) is eager to make TMC’s terror a talking point in the campaign, the party is not drawing much empathy among people well-versed with the Left’s strong-arm tactics, particularly when Mr. Basu was representing the constituency before it became a reserved segment following delimitation.