arya sharma/catch news
Elections are not just about politicians. They are about people and issues. And what really drives their vote.
Catch is, therefore, starting a 'Meet the Voter' series to capture what different impact groups in the poll-bound states are feeling. This is true insight into the upcoming assembly elections: up-close and hyper-personal.----
The Narayangarh constituency in West Bengal's West Medinipur district goes to the polls on 11 April. The Trinamool Congress has made great strides in this CPI(M) stronghold since the last Panchayat elections in 2013.
The contest is between CPI(M)'s Surjya Kanta Mishra, who has not lost on the seat since 1991, and TMC's Pradyut Ghosh.
Ram Pada Midda, 47, runs a shop in Kashipur village, where he lives with his 35-year-old wife Jayanti. They tell us why people of his village will vote for the TMC, despite not being very happy with its work.
Do you vote for Surjya Kanta Mishra?
Ram Pada: No, our anchal (unit of Gram Panchayat) Kashipur votes for Trinamool since 2011. Now, I can't say if there are hidden CPI(M) supporters here, but it is a TMC stronghold now.
Did you vote for TMC in the Panchayat elections in 2013 as well?
Ram Pada: Yes. In fact, the contest between the CPI(M) and Trinamool was very tight here. Both won six seats each in the anchal.
But Mamata Banerjee hasn't come to campaign in Narayangarh...
Ram Pada: Yes, how can she come? She has done nothing for the poor. Trinamool has been in power for five years now, and we have not benefitted at all from that, despite voting for her. There are no roads, no water supply - there's nothing here. We were getting Rs 35 kg rice at Rs 3 per kg under the Antyodaya scheme (he is not aware that it was launched by the NDA in the year 2000).
But Mamata Banerjee's new BPL scheme is corruption-ridden. We get only limited supply - 500 grams of rice is allotted per person per week. Is that enough to feed the poor? My family of four just gets two kg rice in a week and another two kg wheat. Had the supply been regular, we wouldn't have complained. But it's highly erratic.
Does your son work?
Ram Pada: No.
How old is he? Did he go to school.
Ram Pada: Nineteen. He studied till tenth standard.
Jayanti: He had to drop out because of financial problems. We recently married him off.
So, are the earnings from this shop enough for your survival?
Ram Pada: Of course not. But do we have any other option? My son wants to work. But there is nothing for young people like him.
Are there no industrial projects or factories coming up here?
Ram Pada: I can't see anything. There is a plastic manufacturing project - Supreme - about 7 kms away from here that has come up. That's the only industrial project I have seen here in years.
Did you son try for a job there?
Ram Pada: Why would they take him? They have brought educated people from outside. The only job they are giving our boys is that of daily wage labourers, sweepers and cleaners.
(Another voter, who was overhearing our conversation, interrupts to say) For that too they are demanding a bribe of Rs 20,000, 30,000 or 50,000. So, if we had that kind of money, why would we want to work as mazdoor?
Ram Pada: And there is no job security. They might remove us anytime.
What do you have to say about Surjya Kanta Mishra's work here?
He is loved by people here. He is there for the poor when they need. I can't say more than this.
If you show this on TV that we spoke well of Mishra and if TMC workers come to know about it, we might be in trouble.
Jayanti: Will you take responsibility if something went wrong?
Please don't be afraid. This is a democracy. You have the right to speak about your problems.
Ram Pada: During CPI(M) rule in the state, we at least had good roads. Their land policy was also good. But now, everything has stopped. There is nothing. There is no land. Farmers are under huge stress. It's not as if CPI(M) workers were not corrupt, but TMC is far more corrupt.
For example, if they got us Rs 50,000 for a house under the Indira Awas Yojana (another central scheme, which these villagers are unaware about), they would take just Rs 5,000 as bribe. But the TMC will demand more.
The average bribe in the CPI(M) era was one paisa per rupee. But TMC people are far more greedy. Also, under the Left, we had the freedom to speak. But free speech is under attack under TMC government.
And despite this you'll vote for TMC again?
Ram Pada: Yes.
Isn't it contradictory?
Ram Pada: If I want to survive now, I will have to vote for TMC. If I vote for CPI(M), I will be barred from moving on the streets.
You enjoy the right to a secret ballot. How will the TMC workers come to know who you voted for?
No, they will definitely come to know about it.
Jayanti: They will enter the booth and ask us to show them which party we are voting for. This has happened in the last vote. Sometimes, they also come to our houses to find out who we voted for. If they somehow come to know that we voted for their opponents, then our life will be hell. There will be restrictions on our going to toilet in the fields as well. We will be barred from filling water from government taps.
Ram Pada: What will we do then?
Despite all your problems, what are your demands from the government?
Ram Pada: First, a job for my son. Any job. Second, unemployment pension for me. There is nothing more I wish for.
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