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Howrah Lok Sabha Seat in West Bengal Set for Tight Fight between TMC And BJP on May 20



The Howrah Lok Sabha constituency, one of the most prestigious parliamentary seats among the 42 in West Bengal, falls under the general category and covers a portion of the Howrah district.

Comprising seven assembly segments, namely Bally, Howrah Uttar, Howrah Madhya, Shibpur, Howrah Dakshin, Sankrail (SC), and Panchla, this constituency is up for an interesting contest between the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party on May 20 in the fifth phase of the ongoing general elections.

TMC’s incumbent MP Prasun Banerjee is the party’s nominee here, with Dr Rathin Chakraborty of the BJP, and CPI(M) leader Sabyasachi Chatterjee the other key candidates.

Political dynamics

Close Contest: The Howrah Lok Sabha constituency is all set to witness a tough competition between TMC’s Prasun Banerjee and BJP’s Rathin Chakraborty, with the TMC having an edge but the BJP putting up a tough fight.

In the assembly polls of 2021, the TMC bagged all seven assembly segments, with a vote share of 50.6% against the BJP’s 34.2%.

In the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the BJP increased its vote share to 38.9% and the TMC bagged 47.4% of the votes.

One significant phenomenon in the last two decades is the decline of the Left, whose vote share has plummeted from 44.3% in 2009 to 8.7% in 2019. Meanwhile, the BJP has taken over as the core opposition to the TMC.

TMC Ahead, But on Sticky Wicket: Kolkata-adjacent Howrah has been a formidable bastion of the TMC since 2009. The party holds all seven assembly segments, and its incumbent MP has been serving as the seat’s Lok Sabha representative since 2013. In 2019, he won the seat by a margin of over 1 lakh votes. In this election, party chairperson Mamata Banerjee has placed her trust in three-time MP Prasun Banerjee, who is hoping for a fourth consecutive term riding on the chief minister’s popularity.

This election, while the TMC continues to enjoy an edge over the BJP, it faces a strong undercurrent of anti-incumbency and the rising phenomenon of saffron ideology in its stronghold, which also comprises over 20% of non-Bengali voters.

The BJP jumped from 22.2% in 2014 to 38.9% of the votes in 2019, closing the gap to about 8.5% with the TMC. However, in the assembly elections, the TMC consolidated over 50% of the vote share against the BJP’s 34.2% and won all seven seats, proving its resilience in the face of a formidable opposition.

Prasun Banerjee is a former footballer and a well-known face in the constituency. However, he does face challenges that may impede his chances. Firstly, the MP is facing an air of anti-incumbency. As per his critics, he allegedly lacks rapport with his constituents and is accused of showing up only during the elections. The city’s infrastructure lies in dilapidated conditions requiring the MP’s attention. Moreover, as an MP, he has not made a significant mark in Parliament, which is a criticism of some voters who desire a vocal candidate.

Prasun also made a controversial statement during his campaign, claiming that there were no Hindus in the country until 300 or 400 years ago. “Who are these so-called Hindus? Muslims came 800 years ago. There were no Hindus back then. They didn’t exist during the reigns of Taimur and Babur. The concept of Hindus only emerged 300-400 years ago,” he said in a speech, causing an uproar.

Faction Fight in TMC: Another issue is the factionalism within the local ranks of the TMC. Prasun’s re-nomination was vehemently opposed by Mamata Banerjee’s very own brother, Swapan Banerjee, popularly known as Babun. Babun has deemed the incumbent MP as the worst possible candidate and was vying for a ticket himself from Howrah. He also considered contesting as an independent candidate. This open dissent led to a major row between Babun and his sister, Mamata Banerjee, who ultimately disowned him. The CM accused her brother of being greedy and declared that she does not consider him a member of her family and commanded that he shall no longer be introduced as her brother.

Mamata Banerjee is tremendously popular in the constituency, giving this election a Mamata vs Modi dynamic. Even if supporters may not be enamoured by the TMC candidate, their vote is aimed at bolstering Mamata Banerjee’s position against the Centre. Earlier this year, her government doubled the amount transferred to women in the Lakshmir Bandhar scheme, which now ensures monthly financial support of Rs 1,000 to general category women and Rs 1,200 for those from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. This is expected to ensure that women voters, forming half of the voting population, stick largely with the TMC.

While the Mamata Banerjee factor is the most powerful saving grace in Prasun’s favour, the presence of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the fray is expected to divide the anti-BJP vote to a slight extent, which in a close election may come with a heavy cost. The CPI(M) has nominated Sabyasachi Chatterjee, a Calcutta High Court lawyer, for the electoral race. Despite being a newcomer to politics, Chatterjee has garnered significant popularity within civil society for his compelling advocacy at the HC, particularly in support of candidates unlawfully deprived in the multi-crore cash-for-school jobs case in West Bengal. Chatterjee’s potential to significantly erode the anti-BJP vote bank, which has historically leaned towards the Trinamool Congress in several previous elections, could be a worry for Banerjee.

Ultimately, minority votes that comprise over 21.9% of the voting population are expected to lean en-masse towards Trinamool. In all seven assembly segments, the TMC has an edge owing to its MLAs in each seat. The Muslim-dominated Panchla seat will also lean towards the TMC, bolstering its electoral performance.

BJP’s Development Pitch: The BJP has named Dr Rathin Chakraborty as its candidate from Howrah. Chakraborty is an ex-TMC leader who has previously served as the mayor of Howrah Municipal Corporation. His entry into the BJP in 2021 caused quite an uproar within party ranks. However, the matter has settled since then and the BJP unit stands largely united in its campaign efforts. While he is a well-known face in the constituency, he is not seen as a “typical politician” which is both a favourable factor and a drawback.

In the 2021 assembly polls, Chakraborty contested on a BJP ticket from Shibpur, but lost by a huge margin of over 32,000 votes against the TMC’s Manoj Tiwary, a former cricketer. Tiwary now serves as the minister of state for youth services and sports in the Mamata Banerjee government.

The BJP hopes that its development pitch finds resonance in the constituency especially as it got a taste of this firsthand with the introduction of the nation’s first underwater metro section between Howrah Maidan and Esplanade, which passes under the Hooghly River and is the deepest metro station in India. This engineering marvel was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself and has been appreciated by the commuting population across Kolkata and Howrah.

Hindutva Hue: As mentioned earlier, a powerful undercurrent of Hindutva ideology is also simmering in the constituency. The BJP has seen its stock soar in the parliamentary elections, closing the gap with the TMC to just 8.5% votes and pushing the Left to third place.

Among the 20% voters of non-Bengali origin, a large following for PM Modi has emerged especially among Bihari voters. The BJP hopes that this voting bloc leans towards it this election. Moreover, the Left’s role in the elections may benefit the saffron party as it holds the potential to divide the anti-BJP vote and narrow the TMC’s lead.

One significant challenge is the opposition from previous MP candidate Rantidev Sengupta, who bagged about 4,73,016 votes for the BJP in 2019 and has come out against the party’s top leadership, stating that he is against Narendra Modi becoming the Prime Minister for a third term.

All in all, the BJP is expected to put up a tough fight as it deeply desires this prestigious constituency in its larger battle with the TMC leadership. However, there is no clear sign of an outright victory, which signals that the party may increase its tally but will find it very difficult to successfully storm this Trinamool bastion.

Key issues

Communal Tensions: Communal clashes have been on the rise in Howrah with the latest incident in January 2024. Communalism has been a key theme in politics in Bengal; therefore, the rise in communal tensions is not surprising. In January this year, 24 people were left severely injured after people from two communities clashed in Howrah. The issue escalated to such heights that the police had to impose section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The clash originated when a community procession from Tikiapara to Fasitala encountered slogans and tensions on Belilious Road which led to stone-pelting. However, this is not an isolated incident. In April last year, around Ram Navami, violence rocked Howrah. More than 38 people were arrested while the TMC declared that 80% of those were Hindus.

Water Scarcity: Every summer, Howrah suffers acute drinking water scarcity. Residents have complained about the inadequate preparedness of the Howrah Municipal Corporation, which has failed to ensure the supply of piped water in many areas. Water supplied by the Howrah municipality started falling in parts of wards 24 and 26 along with Nidhiram Maji Lane and Majipara adjacent to Netaji Subhash Road. Residents of the area complained that they repeatedly informed the municipality about this but to no avail.

Groundwater Depletion: A critical issue for residents in Howrah is the decline of its groundwater levels. One of the major reasons is over-extraction using private pumps for sustaining water needs as the municipal corporation has failed to meet the needs of the people. This has led to a reserve flow of water and an increase in brackishness of the available groundwater.

Garbage Dumping: Howrah faces significant challenges with garbage disposal and solid waste management. Residents frequently express concerns about improper waste disposal practices, including the dumping of garbage in open drains. This has led to clogged drains, resulting in overflows and the accumulation of sewage water in residential areas, particularly during periods of rain. The inadequate waste management system has led to a decline in the quality of life for the people. Sandhya Bazar, Panchanantala Road near Belilious Lane Point, Nityadhan Mukherjee Road, J Road, Belgachia Dumping Ground, Western Roadside of Belilious Park, Kajipara to Nabanna, Chatterjee Hat Bazar, GT Road Sandhya Bazar, GT Road near Shibpur Bazar, and Belilious Lane are some of the major areas where garbage is dumped.

Traffic Congestion: Traffic congestion is a major issue in Howrah. There has been a rise in private vehicles and taxis plying on the roads. According to reports, the road infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the demand of the growing population. Moreover, inadequate and old public transport means that people do not have faith in these services.

Lack of Development: Lack of development and keeping up with modern amenities has been one of the major issues that people have voiced their anger on towards the government. People believe that despite the city being called a modern urban centre, there is nothing modern about the standard of living and way of life in the region. People still face the same issues that they faced a decade ago: water scarcity, traffic congestion, pollution, and garbage dumping. Moreover, there are other issues that are now beginning to take shape such as groundwater depletion, rising air pollution, etc. Urban planning and sustainable development are the need of the hour in Howrah; however, the local administration is relaxed and has failed to address the issues of the residents.

Voter demographics (2011 Census)

  • Total Voters (2019): 16,33,201
  • Urban Areas: 92.8%
  • Rural Areas: 7.2%
  • SC: 9.2%
  • ST: 0.3%
  • Hindu: ~77%
  • Muslim: 21.9%
  • Christian: 0.18%
  • Literacy Rate: 74.33%

Infrastructure development

Underwater Metro Section: In March this year, Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the Howrah Maidan-Esplanade section of Kolkata Metro’s East-West Corridor. This engineering marvel, built at a cost of Rs 4,965 crore is an underwater metro rail section that runs under the mighty Hooghly River connecting Kolkata and Howrah and is the first underwater transportation tunnel in the country. It also comprises the deepest metro station in the country at 30 metres. PM Modi took a metro ride through this section, interacting with students and other commuters, highlighting the central government’s focus on development.

Amrit Bharat Station: Under the Amrit Bharat Station scheme, the station in Howrah is receiving a grand makeover, and will boast state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities by 2026. According to the Eastern Railway general manager, the station will look like “an airport”. The station has a daily average footfall of over 1,000 passengers and is in dire need of redevelopment.

Railway Infrastructure: Howrah’s railway infrastructure experienced a series of upgrades and expansions. Several stations, including Howrah, Shalimar, and Tikiapara, saw improvements such as platform extensions, new waiting rooms, and enhanced passenger amenities like benches and water coolers. Accessibility was improved with the installation of lifts and footbridges at various stations. Efforts were made to modernise signalling systems and renovate older infrastructure. The introduction of High Mast Towers improved lighting and visibility at Howrah station.

Ring Road: A Rs 4,000-crore ring road is in the works, which will encompass both cities of Howrah and Kolkata and will help ease traffic congestion and the pressure on the Hooghly bridge.

Howrah Stormwater Drainage: To prevent waterlogging, the state government has provided Rs 4.7 crore to prepare a storm drainage master plan for the Howrah Municipal Corporation.

Explore in-depth coverage of Lok Sabha Election 2024 Schedule, Voter Turnout, Upcoming Phase And Much More At News18 Website

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‘He Could Have Called Me’: Naveen Patnaik Responds after PM Modi Promises Probe into ‘Conspiracy behind CM’s Failing Health’




Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (File pic/PTI)

The Odisha chief minister slammed the BJP for ‘spreading rumours’ about his health during the ongoing elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier said that if the BJP comes to power in the state, where assembly elections are being held concurrently with the Lok Sabha polls, it would form a special committee to investigate this issue and reveal the truth

Ahead of the last phase of polling in Odisha on June 1, the battle lines were clearly drawn between former allies Biju Janata Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party with none other than the Prime Minister targeting the Odisha chief minister’s close aide and former bureaucrat VK Pandian, which forced Naveen Patnaik to break his silence on Narendra Modi.

“I understand that the Prime Minister at a public meeting in our state today has stated that I am in bad health and he wants to institute an enquiry to enquire into this matter,” the Odisha CM told reporters. “If he was so concerned about my health and he has stated publicly before that I am a good friend of his, all he had to do was pick up a telephone, ring me up, and ask me about my health.”

Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had indeed called Patnaik his “good friend” in February, ahead of alliance talks between the two parties.

The soft-spoken Odisha chief minister slammed the BJP for “spreading rumours” about his health. “I understand that there are a number of people of the Bharatiya Janata Party from Odisha and Delhi who have been spreading this rumour about my health for the last ten years. Let me assure the Prime Minister that I am in perfect health and I have been campaigning in our state for the last month. Instead of concerning himself about such rumours, he should concentrate on the revision of coal royalty for our state and also our demand for special category status which we have been making for years. This will benefit the people of Odisha with all that funding,” he said.

The opposition BJP, which fancies its chances in Odisha, has made “Odia asmita” an election issue and consistently targeted the Tamilian VK Pandian for the latter’s proximity to the chief minister, alleging that Patnaik is a “mere puppet” in his aide’s hands. And, despite a list of 40 star campaigners, it is Pandian who has led the BJD’s electioneering. Whether it is public meetings, roadshows, or big-ticket interviews, Pandian is everywhere. The BJP is trying to hammer the point that “Pandian, a non-Odia, is usurping power”.

Answering questions from reporters, Patnaik said that his health was alright, or else he would not have campaigned in this heat. “If he is to form a committee, I suggest he form a committee to look into the people who are spreading such false rumours about my health,” he said. “Think about it, this is election time and this has been said to get votes, what else?”

A video of Pandian removing Patnaik’s shaking hand from the public eye during a meeting triggered speculation from the BJP.

“All well-wishers of Naveen Babu are deeply worried. They are concerned seeing the sharp deterioration in Naveen Babu’s health in the past year. Those who have been close to Naveen Babu for years discuss his health when they meet me,” Prime Minister Modi said at a rally. “They say that Naveen Babu is no longer able to do anything on his own. Those who have been close to Naveen Babu for ages believe that there could be some conspiracy behind his deteriorating health.”

The PM, who has been campaigning vigorously in Odisha along with the BJP’s top brass, said the people of the state have the right to know the truth. “Is the same lobby not behind this, the same one who in the name of Naveen Babu and behind the screen is enjoying the perks of power in Odisha? The veil must be lifted from this mystery. There must be an investigation into this. After June 10, when the BJP would have registered a victory, its government in Odisha will form a special committee and will investigate the reasons why Naveen Babu’s health is suddenly continuing to deteriorate.”

In the no-holds-barred fight between the BJD and BJP, the latter has cleverly strategised not to target Naveen Patnaik so much, as he is old and still popular, but his close and trusted aide VK Pandian.

Explore in-depth coverage of Lok Sabha Election 2024 Voter Turnout, Upcoming Phase, Results Date, Exit Poll And Much More At News18 Website

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No Bar In Electoral Law On PM Planning Meditation Trip Ahead Of Last Phase of LS Polls: Sources




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PM Modi will meditate at the Vivekananda Rock Memorial starting on Thursday evening. (Image: News18)

The Congress on Wednesday alleged that Prime Minister Modi was trying to “circumvent” the silence period restrictions with his 48-hour meditation trip in violation of the Model Code of Conduct

There is no bar under electoral law on the prime minister to undertake a meditation trip during elections, sources in the know said on Wednesday, amid the Congress’s opposition to Narendra Modi’s proposed visit to Kanyakumari’s ‘Dhyan Mandapam’ from May 30.

The Congress on Wednesday alleged that Prime Minister Modi was trying to “circumvent” the silence period restrictions with his 48-hour meditation trip in violation of the Model Code of Conduct. It urged the Election Commission to ensure that the his meditation exercise is not aired by the media.

The sources in the know cited Section 126 of the Representation of People Act, 1951 which deals with prohibition of public meetings or propagating and displaying election matter to the public, during the operation of silence period.

Silence period begins 48 hours ahead of the conclusion of poll. Silence period for the last phase, in which Modi’s constituency of Varanasi also goes for poll, begins at 6 PM on Thursday.

However, the provisions of the election law are not applicable in case of multi-phased elections — when the polls are held on different dates — if the content of election matter relates to subsequent phases and in no way, have any reference to the polling area under silence period, they said, citing a press note issued by EC last month.

So long as one does not talk about the locality where election is happening there is no bar, the sources underlined.

If there are no spoken words as reported, there seems to be no violation, they added. Similar permission was given by the Commission to the PM during 2019 Lok Sabha polls when election was scheduled in Varanasi during last phase on May 19.

Explore in-depth coverage of Lok Sabha Election 2024 Voter Turnout, Upcoming Phase, Results Date, Exit Poll And Much More At News18 Website

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – PTI)

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