Ghatal Lok Sabha Election 2024: Clash of the Stars in This Bengal Constituency as TMC, BJP Lock Horns

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Ghatal Lok Sabha constituency will vote in phase 6 on May 25. (Shutterstock)

Ghatal Lok Sabha constituency will vote in phase 6 on May 25. (Shutterstock)

In the assembly elections of 2021, the TMC bagged six seats while the BJP secured just one seat with a vote share of 43.3 per cent against the TMC’s 48.6 per cent

The Ghatal Lok Sabha constituency is one of the 42 parliamentary constituencies in West Bengal. It is a general category seat that spans parts of Paschim Medinipur and Purba Medinipur districts. The constituency includes the following seven Legislative Assembly segments — Panskura Paschim in Purba Medinipur, and Sabang, Pingla, Debra, Daspur, Ghatal (SC), and Keshpur (SC) in Paschim Medinipur. The current MP is Deepak Adhikari (Dev) since 2014. He was preceded by Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI, 2009). The candidates in the fray for the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections are Adhikari (TMC), Hiranmay Chattopadhyay (BJP), and Dr Papiya Chakraborty (Congress). The constituency will vote in phase 6 on May 25.

Political Dynamics

  • Close Contest: Ghatal has drawn significant attention due to high-profile contenders from the Bengali film industry. Dev, also known as Deepak Adhikari, the incumbent Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP, is seeking re-election from this constituency. The BJP has fielded Hiran, also known as Hiranmoy Chattopadhyay, and currently the MLA of Kharagpur, to challenge him directly. It’s a close contest between the TMC and the BJP this time in this TMC stronghold as the party combats a strong sense of anti-incumbency reverberating in this seemingly neglected flood-prone region. In the assembly elections of 2021, the TMC bagged six seats while the BJP secured just one seat with a vote share of 43.3 per cent against the TMC’s 48.6 per cent.
  • TMC Facing Anti-incumbency: The TMC has fielded renowned actor from the Bengali film industry Deepak Adhikari or ‘Dev’ to contest from Ghatal for the third term. In 2019, Dev had won the seat by a margin of 1.07 lakh votes, down from 2.6 lakh votes in 2014. As Dev seeks a hattrick, he is faced with heightened anti-incumbency and public anger over his failure to put the much-talked-about Master Plan into action, which basically refers to a massive development project to curb flooding in this region. Dev had initially hinted that he did not want to contest for a third term as he put up a cryptic social media post captioned, “My last day in Parliament.” At the time, Dev stated, “This is my last speech in Parliament. I have consistently advocated for the Ghatal Master Plan since day one. It is not just a TMC or BJP concern; it is about the welfare of the people.” However, his purported decision to quit politics was reversed after a meeting with Abhishek Banerjee, who convinced him to stay in the race. Reportedly, the TMC party leadership assured him that the Ghatal Master Plan would be implemented, which reportedly convinced Dev who has been facing severe anti-incumbency. His poor attendance in the Lok Sabha and failure to raise the issue effectively in parliament have contributed to public dissatisfaction towards him and the TMC leadership. Another issue is that the MP, though born in Keshpur in Ghatal constituency, is based in Kolkata, with voters resigned to the fact he does not understand their woes when it comes to living in cities and villages submerged most of the year.
  • Master Plan Masterstroke? The TMC government has been campaigning aggressively with the promise of the Master Plan, which is a decades’-long demand of the people. In early April this year, large political posters featuring Mamata Banerjee and Dev appeared throughout Ghatal town with the caption ‘Dev: Master Plan Champion’, drawing criticism from voters. Many accused the TMC of misleading the public by suggesting that the Ghatal Master Plan had been completed or was nearing completion. The TMC now says that this time the state government will fund the project, worth Rs 1,500 crore, entirely without assistance from the Centre. However, even as the TMC faces trouble in this flood-affected region, it has an organisational strength that remains unmatched by the BJP. The party has six MLAs in this constituency all of whom have deployed their heft in this Lok Sabha campaign. Dev’s ‘superstar’ status is far greater in the eyes of the general public than that of his actor opponent, Hiranmay Chattopadhyay, from the saffron party. Moreover, Dev benefits from the Mamata Banerjee factor, as the chief minister remains popular among a large segment of voters, including women. Earlier this year, her government bolstered its position by doubling the amount transferred to women under the Lakhir Bandhar scheme, which now provides Rs 1,000 per month to general category women and Rs 1,200 to those from SC and ST communities. Additionally, the TMC has an advantage with the sizable Muslim vote bank, comprising about 13.4 per cent of the electorate, which is expected to favour the party. Ultimately, the party remains in pole position even as its winning margin may narrow down significantly. This makes for a very close contest in Ghatal.
  • Solid Challenge From BJP: The BJP’s Hiranmay Chattopadhyay or ‘Hiran’ was formerly an actor in the Bengali film industry and is a well-known face in the constituency. The 38-year-old is currently an MLA from Kharagpur Sadar. In the 2021 West Bengal Assembly election, he secured victory over Pradip Sarkar of the All India Trinamool Congress by a margin of 3,771 votes. Additionally, he served as a councillor for Ward 33 of Kharagpur Municipality in the West Bengal Municipal Elections of 2022. Attacking his opponent, Hiran has accused Dev of corruption after an audio clip went viral where a TMC leader claimed that Dev took a 30 per cent cut from him. He has also claimed that Dev received money from Enamul Haque, a defendant in cattle smuggling case investigated by the CBI and utilised it for his film production. The BJP is banking on anti-incumbency faced by the TMC candidate and the Modi factor to sail through with a victory in Ghatal. However, it is not going to be an easy task to take down the super stardom commanded by Dev, or to overcome the popularity of Mamata Banerjee. Moreover, in terms of organisational strength, the BJP, despite having made tremendous strides, has not been able to match up to the TMC. The saffron party has promised to push forward the Master Plan under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pegging him as the only leader who can deliver when it comes to this project. Portraying itself as the only alternative, the larger narrative pushed by the BJP is that the TMC failed to deliver despite having had ten years to work on this development project, and that it will not be able to do so even in the future.
  • Mixed Bag for BJP: A drawback faced by Hiran is that he is also seen as an outsider, being based in Kharagpur. To his credit though, he has been campaigning and carrying out minor works in the constituency for months in advance as there were hints of his possible candidature from Ghatal. The BJP is also attempting to bank on its welfare schemes such as the Awas Yojana, the Garib Kalyan Yojana and so on. However, in this part of West Bengal, the delivery of central schemes has not been efficient, with the Centre blaming the state and vice-versa for lack of cooperation and corruption. While the Modi factor does hold sway in this constituency, it remains to be seen whether it can actually trigger a consequential shift in the political landscape of Ghatal which still remains a TMC stronghold. To its credit, it has been the main factor behind the rise of the BJP’s vote share which went up from 7 per cent in 2014 to almost 41 per cent in 2019, closing the gap with the TMC to about 7.2 per cent.

Key Issues

  • Floods: Floods are a major issue in Ghatal. The region remains submerged in water every year even months after the monsoons. All residents in the region have boats to move about during these months. It has been a perennial issue which has been promised to be solved by every politician seeking to win from the constituency. However, it hasn’t happened yet. Bad planning exacerbates the region’s woes. There is a complete lack of flood-restricting infrastructure and people feel neglected.
  • Ghatal Master Plan: The Ghatal Master Plan, an initiative aimed at mitigating the region’s annual floods through riverbed dredging and embankment reinforcement, was announced by the West Bengal government in 1977. Despite public demand for its implementation, little progress has been made in the ensuing five decades. After assuming power in 2011, the Trinamool Congress government submitted a detailed project report to the Centre, initially estimated at Rs 1,200 crore. While the Centre agreed to a 75-25 funding ratio, this was later changed to 50-50 following the BJP-led NDA’s rise to power in 2014. However, no funds were released for the project until 2023, leaving the plan, now estimated at Rs 1,500 crore, largely unrealised.
  • Corruption: Corruption has become a major issue in Ghatal for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, probably for the first time. BJP MLA of Kharagpur Hiren Chatterjee has accused Dev of corruption after an audio clip went viral where a TMC leader from Ghatal claimed that Dev took a 30 per cent cut from him. Another issue that has been brought to the fore was corruption in the PM Awas Yojana. Last year, Suvendu Adhikari took out a protest march in Arambagh against the state government. He claimed people have been deprived of the benefits of the central government schemes while the funds sent by the central government for the MGNREGA work, Awas Yojana and other beneficiary schemes have been looted and misused and the natural resources of the state are being smuggled, including coal, sand and livestock. People in the region are incensed as they believe corrupt officials and politicians are the reason why Ghatal has not been able to progress.
  • Railway Connectivity: There is no railway connectivity in Ghatal. The nearest railway station is 33 kilometres away in Panskura. People are dependent on buses to travel to the Panskura junction and in the months of flooding, even that is not possible. People have been demanding a railway line in the region for decades but to no avail. According to reports, there was a plan for a railway line from Panskura Junction to Arambagh via Ghatal. However, the project did not progress.
  • Roads: Road connectivity in Ghatal is a major issue. Every year during monsoon, roads in the region are washed away. There is a lack of all-weather roads in the region. Ghatal has no railway connectivity and buses are the only mode of transport. Despite that, there has been no improvement in road connectivity and infrastructure for over a decade.
  • Lack of Civic Infrastructure: There is also lack of civic infrastructure in the Ghatal Lok Sabha constituency as a whole. There is lack of drinking water as piped water has not reached the homes of the people. Electricity and sewage infrastructure in the region are crumbling. There is lack of proper healthcare and educational facilities. Due to months of waterlogging and flooding, mosquitoes breed in the region, giving rise to dengue and other water-borne diseases. A lack of healthcare facilities forces the residents to travel to Hooghly and Howrah.
  • Farmer Issues: The biggest issue is crop failure due to floods every year. Lack of piped water facilities, increasing cost of electricity and low supply of fertilisers and pesticides at subsidised rates have increased the burden on farmers. Compensation is often delayed and less than adequate to alleviate the debt burden. Farmers in the region have also alleged that a portion of the compensation is often pocketed by the local administration and is delayed. Farmers in the region also often die by suicide. According to reports, there were 122 farmer and farm-related suicides in the region in 2021. In 2023, three farmers died by suicide in the region due to crop failure. The 2021 numbers were revealed as a response to an RTI, which was then quickly rescinded by the state government.
  • Unemployment and Emigration: Unemployment remains a major issue in Ghatal. Due to the adverse climatic conditions, there is an absence of big industries and factories. People depend on agriculture for their sustenance. But the number of issues farmers face has forced the people out of the region to urban centres of Howrah, Hooghly and Kolkata in search of better opportunities where they face constant hardships.

Infrastructure Development

  • Railway Infrastructure: In the past five years, the Ghatal Lok Sabha constituency saw the completion of a third railway line between Panskura and Kharagpur, spanning 44.7 kilometres. Passenger amenities were enhanced with the introduction of a new EMU train connecting Panskura and Digha, along with additional seating at various stations. Drinking water booths were added at Haur station, improved lighting was installed at Panskura and Narayan Pakuria Muail stations, and new timetable display boards were placed at multiple stations. Toilets were constructed at Khirai and Narayan Pakuria Mural, while new platform shelters were built at Haur and Khirai stations. Full-length platform shelters were also completed at Narayan Pakuria Mural and Panskura. Additionally, a stabling line and a pit line were constructed at Panskura.
  • Ghatal Bridge: Construction of RCC bridge over channel of the River Silabati at 43rd Km. (4th Causeway) on Chandrakona-Ghatal Road (SH-4) in the District of Paschim Medinipur was completed.
  • Panskura-Ghatal Road: Upgradation of the SH4 on the Panskura-Ghatal road was carried out by the state government at a cost of $19.9 million. It included the construction of two paved shoulders to the two-lane highway.
  • Amrit Bharat: The Panskura Jn is selected as part of the Union government’s Amrit Bharat station scheme. It will help bring a much-needed infrastructure transformation to the station and improve passenger amenities.

Voter Demographics

Total Voters (2019): 17,97,685

Urban Voters: 6%

Rural Voters: 94%

Literacy Rate: 70.12%

Social Composition:

SC: 17.1%

ST: 7.9%

Religious Composition:

Hindu: 86%

Muslim: 13.4%

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

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