Unemployment continues to be a major issue in Asansol

When singer Babul Supriyo won the Asansol Lok Sabha constituency in 2014, it was considered nothing short of a coup. The dusty industrial town, once seen as the great hope of a state in decline, was a citadel of the Left for 30 years and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had never had much of a toehold in West Bengal. The BJP won two seats in the state that election.

Five years later, the seat in Burdwan West district hogged headlines after clashes broke out during voting on April 29. Supriyo, now a Union minister, accused the Trinamool Congress (TMC) of smashing his car and rigging the polls. His opponent, TMC’s Moon Moon Sen, said she didn’t know about the violence because she got her “bed tea” late.

With the election behind them, voters in Asansol say the highly charged and often-violent campaign eclipsed material issues affecting the city of 1.1 million that has seen a number of industrial units close in recent years.

Shital Ganguly, a professor at a college in Ranigunj, said: “Closure of big industries could have been a big issue. But no party raised it, no party talked of employment generation.”

Samrat Kazi, who runs a poultry farm at Charulia, the birthplace of iconic Bengali poet, songwriter and freedom fighter Kazi Nazrul Islam, said: “Our MP is a famous singer himself. I expected that, being an artist, he would have set up a memorial or academy in his name.”

The main issues in Asansol are employment, water and rising religious polarisation, which was stoked by Ram Navami celebrations that began last year. “As an MP, Supriyo is not visible. We are not sure what Sen can offer if elected but we remember the communal riots during Ram Navami last year,” said Arati Ghosh, a resident of Jamuria.

Jobs have emerged as a big issue after two prominent public sector units and 16 coal mines were shut down over the last five years. “After the polls, Supriyo, then minister of state for urban development, visited the Hindustan Cables Township and promised to revive the central public sector unit declared sick in 2002… In 2016, Centre closed down the unit which was set up in 1952,” said Kaushik Dutta, a trader.

Political commentator Suvashis Maitra said BJP still trailed TMC in grassroots organisation. “In 2014, Modi was an icon,” he said, adding, the appeal of PM appeared to have dulled.

First Published:
May 21, 2019 07:13 IST

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