Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee is no longer in the race to win this Lok Sabha constituency which he represented for 24 years, but his summary expulsion from the Communist Party of India-Marxist has ironically turned voters against his replacement candidate.
The shadow of the redoubtable Marxist leader haunts CPI-M candidate Ramchandra Dom whenever he goes campaigning in this constituency, now renamed Bolpur after delimitation, which goes to the poll on May 7.
Sensing the voters' mood, Congress' Asit Mal has been trying to rub salt to the wounds of Somnath sympathisers. "CPI-M is in trouble here and they have to count the cost of sacking Chatterjee. People and the CPI-M cadre have not taken his expulsion well," Mal said.
Dom has the onerous task of filling in Chatterjee's shoes and he admitted it, saying it was indeed difficult to take his place. "I cannot say I am his successor. His personality and charisma set him apart."
The only factor working to Dom's advantage is the enormous goodwill Chatterjee earned through his development work heundertook in this once sleepy constituency. Known as the gateway to Rabindranath Tagore's Santiniketan ('abode of peace'), Bolpur had very little to talk about before Chatterjee came to represent it. "Using his influence in New Delhi, he introduced two express trains, laid double railway tracks to Bolpur," Sushil Chowdhury, a local businessman, said.
Still, Chatterjee's development efforts surrounding Visva-Bharati invited criticism from some of his 'own' people who accused him of giving scant regard to environment while rooting for rapid urbanisation, sanctioning hotels, resorts and housing complexes. "The apex court had directed the Sriniketan-Santiniketan Development Authority, which Chatterjee chaired till July, 2008, to protect the environment and ambience around Gurudev's institute. Voters of Bolpur would now like to see how the new MP went along with the Visva-Bharati authorities because Chatterjee and university authorities had never seen eye-to-eye.
Meanwhile, Mal alleged that only Bolpur town saw the development whereas CPI(M)-dominated villages in the district fared poorly in projects like NREGA, Indira Awas Yojana and people continued to drink water from well.
Despite the voters being sceptical, the CPI-M candidate is likely to be aided by delimitation with tribal-dominated Left stronghold of Ketugram assembly segment acceding to the constituency while the Dubrajpur assembly segment has gone to the nearby Birbhum Lok Sabha constituency. In the last panchayat election, opposition parties were far behind Left parties in vote strength.