West Bengal

West Bengal Elections | Hanging by a thread and violence-wracked, Bengal jute belt votes for a better future

The polls will be held in the Barrackpore industrial belt in the sixth phase are no different and posters have come up including on the walls of a few closed mills. File Photo.

The polls will be held in the Barrackpore industrial belt in the sixth phase are no different and posters have come up including on the walls of a few closed mills. File Photo.

Most of the jute mills in the Barrackpore industrial belt are located on the Ghosh Para Road that runs parallel to river Hooghly, only 100 to 200 metres apart. During every Assembly election, the large iron gates of these mills that have several lockdown and closure notices pasted on them are decorated with posters of candidates contesting the polls. The 2021 Assembly polls, which will be held in the Barrackpore industrial belt in the sixth phase on April 22, are no different and posters have come up including on the walls of a few closed mills.

Binod Das, a worker at the Weaverly Jute Mill in Bhatpara, said the mill has been lying closed for several months. The worker, who lives in the Bhatpara Assembly segment, said he has no money for the treatment of his wife. “We only hear about meetings to open the mill but there is no word when the mill will open,” the middle-aged worker said

The structures are more than a century old — in fact some of them the oldest in the region. Many of them started operations from the second half of the 19th century when under Viceroy Lord Canning, British industrialist McLane Berry started the Gauripur Jute Mill at Naihati, the Weaverly Jute Mill at Shyamnagar and the Alexandra Jute Mill at Jagatdal. Some like the Guaripur Jute Mill that closed in 1998 are only a shadow of their past and after so many general and Assembly elections workers do not take the promises of opening the mills seriously.

The industry, which is hanging by a thread now, was instrumental in economic progress and the first train connecting Barrackpore to Kushtia in Bangladesh primarily transporting jute was started as early as in September 1862.

Bishnu Devdas, a worker of the Guaripur Jute Mill, said that in 2019 polls when Arjun Singh contested the Lok Sabha polls on a BJP ticket, he had promised dues to the workers, but nothing was done.

“In the past 10 years, Mamata Banerjee has not spared any serious thought for the industry. The Nadia Jute Mill [located in Barrackpore subdivision] is officially closed but producing about six tons of materials,” the BJP MP said. Long before defections became a regular phenomenon in the State politics, Mr. Singh, a three-time TMC MLA from Bhatpara, defected and joined the BJP months before the Lok Sabha polls and defeated TMC candidate Dinesh Trivedi from the Barrackpore Lok Sabha seat.

It is not only the distress in the mills but the political and communal violence that has kept one of the most densely populated areas of the State on the edge.

Assembly constituencies like Naihati, Bhatpara, Jagatdal, Noapara Barrackpore and Khardah that will go to polls on Thursday have borne the brunt of the violence. The political violence that started in 2019 often took a communal nature leading to several deaths. Seven people were killed in the Bhatpara riots that started in May 2019 and continued for weeks till June 2019.

Some of the victims of the violence have still got no support from the State government. For instance, Shyamali Devi, a resident of Kakinara whose husband Prabhu Shaw died of a police bullet on June 12, 2019, is finding it difficult to make her ends meet. She has to take care of four daughters — at least two of them have dropped out and have no work to support the family.

In 2020, the region witnessed violent area domination between the BJP and the TMC. Supporters of both the parties lost lives and the region witnessed heart-wrenching scenes like the murder of BJP leader Manish Shukla in a crowded public place on October 4, 2020. He was shot dead by semi-automatic weapons and the BJP has fielded his father Chandramani Shukla from Barrackpore. The TMC has fielded well-known director Raj Chakraborty from the seat.

At Bhatpara, Arjun Singh’s son Pavan Singh is defending the seat against Jitendra Shaw of the TMC. Sunil Singh, another relative of Arjun Singh, is contesting from Noapara while former TMC MLA Shilbadra Dutta is contesting from Khardah. The TMC has fielded Manju Basu from Noapara and Kajal Sinha from Khardah.

Political observers feel that the region has seen at least 20 murders between 2019 and 2021 making it one of the most violent regions of West Bengal. “The political criminal nexus was something the jute mills were not alien to but the extent to which the violence has raged in the past two years has been unimaginable. Also, the communal and ethnic divisions created by the political parties have made an irreparable loss to the social fabric of the region,” Bijay Kumar Rajak a social worker said. The mills where people from different parts of the countries and ethnicities came to work are now divided along narrow lines, he said.

Even 36 hours before the region goes to the polls, a bomb explosion in the early hours of Wednesday morning brought a local club in Titagarh area to ground. One person was killed and another sustained serious injury in the explosion within hours of which bombs were hurled near the residence of the BJP MP.

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Printable version | May 14, 2022 1:50:54 am | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/west-bengal-assembly/west-bengal-elections-hanging-by-a-thread-and-violence-wracked-bengal-jute-belt-votes-for-a-better-future/article34380670.ece