Muslim vote key for the victory of Abhijeet Mukherjee

The two pieces of advice the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, gave to his son, Abhijeet, are simple but perhaps key to winning any election in summer. “Drink enough water and reach out to the people as much as possible, he said,” explained junior Mukherjee, while taking a long drive from Sagardighi in Murshidabad district to his residence in Jangipur. The constituency has sent him to Parliament two years ago in a by-election where Mr. Mukherjee got nearly 15 per cent less votes than that his father got in 2009. He got about 2,500 votes more than the CPI(M) candidate. However, Mr. Mukherjee is confident to enhance the lead this time.

An engineer-turned-politician, Abhijeet Mukherjee is a difficult candidate to interview. Not really because he holds back information, but because he says too many things and one may not know what to publish. Like in the course of the interview he praised his and his party’s rivals Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee, both, in the same breath. “They both have done good work, to an extent,” he said. In fact, his frank opinion, his early morning visit to the river for a casual swim and his long addas (chit-chats) in tea stalls around his house have made him the talk of the town.

“Yes I know, I talk a lot but that is because I can not keep things to myself and that is how I am,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

But he is diplomatic when it comes to discussing men who can ensure his victory in Jangipur. The district is under the complete control of Congress strongman, junior Minister of Railways and the president of the party in the State, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. Mr. Chowdhury is not particularly fond of the President or his son. In fact, the main debate in Jangipur is whether Mr. Chowdhury will back Mr. Mukherjee in his patch or not. Mr. Mukherjee is aware of the controversy surrounding him and the PCC president and thus selected his words carefully.

“He is a tremendous organiser and I do believe that he could be the Chief Minister of the State after the 2016 Assembly election,” Mr. Mukherjee said reiterating his proposal to elect Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as Chief Minister in a public meeting in Sagardighi. “He is definitely better than the other Congress leaders and should head the State, once we come to power,” said Mr. Mukherjee.

Some of the local Congress workers, close to Mr. Chowdhury, also said that the PCC president is taking “extra care” to ensure Mr. Mukherjee’s victory. “Mr. Chowdhury, being the chief of the State, would like to ensure maximum seats for the party. So, we have to win six seats in the north-central Bengal [that the Congress won earlier] and Adhirda is giving his best. There is no internal politics working here,” said Hasanuzzaman Bappa of Raghunathganj I, Block Congress Committee.

However, besides the support of Adhir Chowdhury, the Congress candidate needs to negotiate other factors, which are possibly more complicated. About 72 per cent of voters in Jangipur are Muslims and there is serious communalisation of politics in Jangipur over the last few years. So both the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the CPI(M) opted for Muslim candidates, while the Congress opted for Mr. Mukherjee. In addition, there are two parties — the AIUDF and the WPI — which are supported by various minority forums. The minority supported parties got nearly eight per cent votes in the 2012 by-election and the dedicated Hindu vote, 10 per cent, went to the BJP. The chances of Hindu votes consolidating against the Congress is more in Jangipur, like it is against the TMC in the rest of the State. However, Mr. Mukherjee believes that he will get votes from both communities.

“If you tour the constituency, you would find that my father has worked equally for both the communities. I am confident of getting votes of both,” he said. He also refused to accept that putting up Muslim candidates will take away the Muslim votes. “It never happens that way. People know what helps them in the long run and that always is the Indian National Congress,” he said and stepped into his favourite tea stall at the corner of the road near to his Jangipur house and ordered his favourite round, cream biscuit.