Lok Sabha Election

Survival tops voter agenda in Sundarbans

A villager at Ghoramara stands besides what is left of his house. The Island with 3800 voters is under Mathurapur Lok Sabha seat.  

Nantu Das, a resident of the remote estuarine island of Ghoramara in the Sundarbans, got his daughter married on May 14, five days before the 3,800 voters on the sinking island will exercise their franchise on May 19.

“Monsoons are a very difficult time for the residents of Ghoramara,” the 52-year-old betel nut farmer said. “Every year, the sea rises and gobbles up our homes. I want to send my daughter to a safe place before that,” Mr. Das added.

Located at the State’s southernmost tip and bordering the Bay of Bengal, Ghoramara has been almost completely untouched by the high-pitched election campaign seen elsewhere in West Bengal.

Sheikh Alimuddin’s house was destroyed the night cyclone Fani made landfall on the island. Only a Trinamool Congress (TMC) flag flutters near the house, whose roof was washed away by the rising waters.

Mr. Alimuddin remarked that while the TMC’s Lok Sabha candidate, the 80-year-old Choudhury Mohan Jatua, had visited the island in the aftermath of Fani, the MP had not come to see the destroyed house. “I pray to Didi (Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) that I be rehabilitated to some other island,” Mr. Alimuddin, who earns his living as a construction worker in Kerala, said.

Sanjib Sagar, the TMC gram panchayat pradhan who is busy working to ensure that his party gets a lead on the island, said that he had prepared a list of about 30 beneficiaries whose houses had been destroyed by the rising sea level and needing to be rehabilitated to another island. Mr. Sagar said that he would submit the list to the District Magistrate after the polls.

Most of the Mathurapur Lok Sabha constituency comprises what is referred to as the Sundarbans. It has bigger islands like Sagar, where the annual pilgrimage of Ganga Sagar takes place, as well as the hinterland of Kakdwip, Patharpratima, Raidighi, where people are primarily dependent on agriculture and fishing.

On the last day of campaigning for Mathurapur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised a separate ministry for fisheries, while Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke about giving cards to fishermen who venture into the deep seas so that they were not detained by authorities in Bangladesh.

One of the most economically backward regions of the State, Sundarbans is both a hotspot of climate change and biodiversity. As per a report of WWF India in 2017, out of every 1000 people of Sundarbans 190 eat one meal a day and510 are malnourished. There is also of huge migration, where men migrate due to economic distress leaving women to take care of the families.

TMC has won all the seven Assembly seats that fall under Mathurapur Lok Sabha seat in 2016 Assembly polls. To stop TMC’s nominee Mr.Jatua winning his third consecutive term from Mathurapur the BJP has fielded Shyama Prasad Halder. The Left Front’s candidate is Sarat Chandra Halder.

In the adjoining Lok Sabha seat of Joynagar, where people survive in the maze of rivers, rivulets and creeks, the TMC’s Pratima Rajak is seeking a second term. Among the promises he makes to the voters one is ensuring that the crisis of Joynagar town will be solved by 2021.

Sumitra Das, of Ambikanagar village in Kultali lost her husband to a tiger attack in 2017. Like several men of the islands her husband had gone into the forest that comes under the South 24 parganas division for fishing but never returned. With two children in school, Ms. Das manages with a machine for husking paddy which her husband had left. Asked about whether she got support from the government she said local panchayat gave her money to build a small hut under Indira Awaas Yojana. But her problem remains 100 days of work, which she complains is not available. “Elections mean nothing to us, if we dont have any work,” she said.

Joynagar a seat reserved for SC, has been one of the strongholds of Revolutionary Socialist Party ( RSP), an ally of the Left Front and SUCI (Communist), which had an elected MP with the support of TMC from 2009-14. Six of seven assembly segments Lok Sabha were won by the TMC in 2016 Assembly polls and Kultali seat went to the CPI(M). Despite the history of strong Left presence the residents say that the this time the contest is between Ms. Mondal and Ashok Kandari of the BJP. “ Ebar Kandari line bhalo ( This time Kandari has a chance)”, a group of young men venturing into a creek to collect honey said referring to the BJP candidate. The Left Front has nominated former Irrigation Minister and RSP leader Subhas Naskar. Both Mathurapur and Joynagar Lok Sabha seats will go to polls on May 19.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 11:31:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/survival-tops-voter-agenda-in-sundarbans/article27173520.ece

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