Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back

From The Ground In Krishnanagar In Bengal: A Saffron Success Story Is Being Woven In This Ancient Textile Hub Once Again

Author: Jaideep Mazumdar
Publication: Swarajyamag.com
Date: April 27, 2019
URL:      https://swarajyamag.com/politics/from-the-ground-in-krishnanagar-in-bengal-a-saffron-success-story-is-being-woven-in-this-ancient-textile-hub-once-again


- The BJP last won the Krishnanagar Lok Sabha constituency in 1999. A visit to ground zero reveals that this election offers the party its best chance in 20 years.

Krishnanagar, the capital of Nadia district in south Bengal, is synonymous with Bengali culture. And it is also a microcosm of Bengal: it boasts of a glorious past, is justifiably proud of its rich culture and traditions, witnessed a decline over the past few decades and is now yearning to make a clean break from its dismal recent past. And like many other places in Bengal, it is trying to take the saffron route to revival.

Apart from terracotta pottery, bell-metal utensils and traditional Bengali sweets, Nadia cradled the Vaishnavite movement launched by 15th century mystic-saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, is closely associated with the Navya Nyaya school of Indian logic, and was the seat of the Pala and Sena kings till its conquest by Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1202 paved the way for Muslim rule over Bengal.

It developed into a renowned textile hub that was famous for its fine muslin, and its weavers had their looms destroyed and their thumbs cut off by the British who wanted to promote British-made textiles.

Like the rest of Bengal, Nadia also produced freedom fighters like Bagha Jatin and became a hub of the revolutionary freedom movement. It has produced many eminent litterateur and artistes, and the dialect spoken here is considered to be the most shuddh (purest) among all Bengali dialects. Post-Independence, like the rest of Bengal, it chose Congress before opting for communists in the early 1970s. Since 1971, the Krishnanagar Lok Sabha seat has been held by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)).

But Krishnanagar has also had a strong nationalist undercurrent that found periodic expression in Hindutva. Thus, in 1999, it elected eminent lawyer Satyabrata Mookherjee of the BJP to the Lok Sabha. Mookherjee served as a junior minister, holding portfolios like chemicals & fertilizers, and commerce & industries, in the Vajpayee government. During his term, Krishnanagar witnessed a lot of development and Mookerjee was responsible for promoting textiles, developing Mayapur which is dotted with Vaishnavite mandirs and monasteries (and is also the global headquarters of (ISKCON), improving sanitation and roads of Krishnanagar town, promoting dairy farming (this is a milk-production hub of Bengal now) and investment in the small, mini and micro industrial sector.

However, Mookherjee lost to the CPI(M)’s Jyotirmoyee Sikdar in 2004 by a narrow margin. In 2009, actor Tapas Paul of Trinamool Congress wrested the seat from Sikdar, and that marked the descent of Krishnanagar to perhaps the lowest point in its post-Independence history. Paul not only did nothing for Krishnanagar, he soon got embroiled in the Saradha chit fund scam and spent a long time in prison. He also gained infamy for his intemperate and obnoxious remarks (read this and this).

The years Paul spent in prison and the court cases he is currently battling led to Krishnanagar’s neglect. “Over the past ten years since Tapas Paul has been the MP, Krishnanagar has not seen any development. He has been busy saving himself (from charges of corruption) and has not found any time for his constituency. His ugly remarks have brought a lot of negative attention to Krishnanagar, which has always prided itself in its culture and rich traditions. Paul has not only been a total failure, but a disaster for Krishnanagar,”said Gurupada Dasgupta, a retired school principal and a well-known social activist of Krishnanagar.

Dasgupta's sentiments are echoed by a cross-section of Krishnanagar's citizenry. “Krishnanagar town is in a mess and the civic body is non-functional. When the MP himself does nothing for the constituency, how can one expect the MLAs and Councillor to work. Krishnanagar town is dirty, the drains are clogged and overflowing, roads are pot-holed and garbage collection is lax. There is utter chaos and anarchy in the town and the condition of the rural areas is worse. Little has been done after Julubabu (as Mookherjee is fondly called here) for this constituency either by Sikdar or Tapas Paul. Neither of them were really interested in Krishnanagar's development and progress,” said Sudhangshu Das, a trader who owns a prominent shop selling electric and electronic gadgets in Krishnanagar town's trading hub of Bowbazar.

Monojit Majumdar, who runs a small handloom unit at Santipur (in Nadia) that makes cotton sarees, says that the textile sector saw a boost when Mookherjee was the MP from 1999 to 2004. “He got experts from Maharashtra, Punjab and other places to suggest technological changes and make weaving more efficient. Designers conducted workshops for us regularly and we introduced a number of new designs. Marketing linkages were created and we could exhibit and sell our sarees in some big showrooms in Delhi and Bangalore. Our earnings, thus, went up,”said Majumdar.

Mookherjee also helped popularise the traditional sweets of Krishnanagar like sarbhaja and facilitated microloans for small units making bell-metal utensils. “Nadia's economy started looking up during Julubabu's tenure. It was a mistake on the part of Krishnanagar's electorate not to re-elect him in 2004 and we have all paid a huge price for that mistake over the last 15 years,” said Majumdar.

Constituency Profile

Krishnanagar Lok Sabha seat has seven Assembly segments: Tehatta, Palashipara, Kaliganj, Nakashipara, Chapra, Krishnanagar Uttar and Krishnanagar Dakshin. All these Assembly constituencies were bagged by the Trinamool in the 2016 Assembly polls and the BJP came a distant third, garnering a vote share between five and ten per cent. But since then, and especially over the last two years, the BJP has made significant inroads and managed to enrol nearly one lakh new members. “We have our karyakartas at all booth levels in Krishnanagar. A huge number of young men and women have joined us from the Trinamool and the CPI(M),” said BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.

Hindus form a majority (67 per cent) of the 16.42-lakh strong electorate in Krishnanagar, while Muslims constitute around 33 per cent and Christians, Sikhs and others are a miniscule 0.8 per cent. Hindus are in a majority in five Assembly segments except Chapra and Kaliganj, where Muslims form 70 per cent and 60 per cent of the electorate respectively. In the rest of the Assembly segments, the percentage of Hindus vary from 60 to 70. While agriculture is the mainstay of Krishnanagar’s economy, a significant contributor is its textile sector. Tourism (Mayapur is a major pilgrimage centre) and small industries (bell-metal, sweetmeats and terracotta) are also revenue-earners.

The Candidates

Realising that its sitting MP Tapas Paul would lose badly if fielded from Krishnanagar once again, the Trinamool replaced him unceremoniously with its national spokesperson Mahua Moitra. A Kolkata-born, Moitra graduated in economics from the USA and joined merchant banking firm JP Morgan and worked in London and New York. Moitra rose to become a vice-president of the company before quitting and joining the Congress. She was a close aide of Rahul Gandhi and was the face of Rahul’s pet Aam aadmi ka sipahi project. But she soon joined the Trianmool and is a prominent face of the party. She entered electoral politics in 2016 and was elected a legislator from an Assembly segment in Nadia district.

The BJP opted to field a fresh face in Kalyan Chaubey, a former professional footballer who was the goalkeeper of the Indian football team and played for Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Salgaocar FCs. A spiritual person with varied interests, and a successful businessman now, Chaubey is a greenhorn in politics. The CPI(M), which has some committed voters, has fielded Santanu Jha, a professor of agriculture at the state-run Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya.

The Electoral Battle

Like in many other parts of Bengal, Krishnanagar too is witnessing a loud support for the BJP, which is campaigning hard on the issues of development and prosperity. The soft-spoken and genteel Chaubey is seen as a hard-working, honest and sincere person who can deliver. But more than Chaubey, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi's appeal that is likely to work more here. This was on full display at the huge rally that Modi addressed at Taherpur (in the constituency) earlier this week. The one-lakh-strong crowd cheered when he took on the Trinamool for its corruption and extortion. BJP chief Amit Shah’s rally a few days ago also drew a massive crowd.

Chaubey’s close aide Partha Chak says that the BJP candidate has been receiving a very positive response from the electorate. “Even a section of the educated Muslims and their womenfolk have been interacting with us very positively. We expect their support,” said Chak. Chaubey has been focusing on the lack of performance of Tapas Paul and pointing out that Krishnanagar can only develop if it has an MP who belongs to the ruling party. “The people of Krishnanagar know now that it is the BJP-led NDA which will form the next government. In order to develop, it is much better to have an MP who sits in the treasury benches rather than one in the opposition benches. We have been telling the people here that an Opposition MP can do little for Krishnanagar, which needs a massive dose of development to regain its lost glory,” said Chak.

Moitra has also been campaigning hard and promising to change the face of Krishnanagar. She has been telling the electorate that Mamata Banerjee will become the next Prime Minister and Krishnanagar will receive top priority from her. Trinamool leaders have also been telling the electorate that with Mamata Banerjee as PM, Moitra will get an important portfolio and that will be a boon for the people of Krishnanagar. Ironically, they are underlining the fact that the only time that Krishnanagar witnessed development since Independence was when the local MP, Satyabrata Mookherjee, became a Minister. Trinamool leader Shasti Banerjee tells a motley group of people at a roadside meeting in Krishnanagar’s Kotwali bazar area: “This time, once again, your local MP will become a member of the Union cabinet headed by Mamata Banerjee and Krishnanagar will witness a surge of development”.

But there seems to be barely any takers for this ‘Mamata will be PM’ prediction. “No one is buying that narrative since everyone is convinced that Modi will become the PM once again. Mamata Banerjee becoming the PM is too far-fetched,” says Saibal Roychowdhury, a history teacher at Krishnagar College. He adds that there is a wave in favour of the BJP, and points to the huge crowds at the BJP’s rallies, the positive and enthusiastic manner in which people respond to Chaubey, the voluntary involvement of youth in the BJP’s campaign and the outpouring of support for Modi. “A measure of a party’s popularity is the publicity material on display, BJP’s flags, banners and festoons are prominent all over and at many places, outnumber those of its rivals,” adds Roychowdhury.

Another reason for the open support for the BJP is that the saffron party has emerged as a serious contender for power in the state. “The BJP is now being perceived by the masses as a party that can unseat the Trinamool. So people are no longer scared of openly supporting the BJP. They are no longer scared that such a show of support will result in retributions from the Trinamool. In many places, the BJP is resisting attacks on its functionaries and supporters and that is being seen as a sign that the BJP is strong,” added Roychowdhury. Also, the earlier attacks by Trinamool goons on its political rivals has alienated a large section of the educated and middle classes.

A drawback that the Trinamool suffers from is the open and intense factionalism within its ranks. Even the top leaders of the party’s Nadia district unit are feuding and party workers owing allegiance to rival leaders have often clashed violently. This, along with Tapas Paul’s involvement in the Saradha scam and his long incarceration, has severely dented the Trinamool’s image. Also, Mahua Mitra does not connect easily with ground-level party workers and with the masses. She is perceived to be aloof and haughty, for example when refusing to oblige youngsters requesting for selfies.

Admittedly, the BJP also suffered from some initial hiccups with veteran Satyabrata Mookherjee, who was also the president of the state unit of the party, not too happy with being passed over for Krishnanagar. “But we have been able to overcome that and Juluda has not only openly blessed and praised Chaubey, but has also been actively campaigning for him. Juluda has campaigned in all Assembly segments of Krishnanagar till now,” said Chaubey’s aide Partha Chak. The rallies by Modi and Amit Shah have given a massive boost to Chaubey’s prospects.

The CPI(M) candidate, say political pundits, will cut into Trinamool votes. “The electorate is polarised now and while a large section of Muslims will vote for the Trinamool, the counter-polarisation among Hindus will benefit the BJP massively. But the CPI(M) will cut into the Trinamool’s votes among Hindus and a small section of Muslims. This will benefit the BJP,” said Roychowdhury.

In 1999, Satyabrata Mookherjee won from Krishnanagar since the BJP could capture the imagination of the masses. ‘Vajpayee as PM’ was a slogan that found resonance in their hearts and minds. This time, the ‘Modi again’ is creating the same impact. Chaubey is confident of his win, And many think that just as Vajpayee inducted Mookherjee in his council of ministers, Modi would also do the same. That, in itself, is another driver of the saffron wave in Krishnanagar.

- Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements