'Price Rise', 'Corruption' and Uncertainty: Scenes From Outside a Bengal Voting Booth

A retired school teacher said he prioritised "corruption and highhandedness" among poll issues. A college student said she wished to keep BJP out.

Uluberia: As voting was underway on a particularly violent polling day in West Bengal, The Wire on April 6, spent a few hours interacting with voters of Uluberia Uttar constituency.

Papiya Mondal, 47, pins the voter’s concern to a single phrase, “Price rise.” The mother of two added, “How will people like us survive when the price of an LPG cylinder is Rs 850, and when mustard oil is Rs 150? My vote is for the party who is speaking against the price hike.”

When asked if she faced any difficulties while voting, or if anyone intimidated her, Mondal said, “Nothing of that sort happened. But I must say, I have never seen so much military presence during elections. Some people are getting scared of that.”

Biswajibon Ghosh came out of Raghudebapur Primary School and said, “Vote needs to be registered so I am here to cast mine. This is nothing exceptional.”

The retired school teacher said he prioritised “corruption and highhandedness” among poll issues. “One can’t say that no work has happened in the last 10 years. People benefited from various government schemes. So I voted after assessing all these issues,” he said.

A man shows the indelible ink on his finger after voting. Photo: Himadri Ghosh

Thirty six-year-old Poritosh Banerjee said, “Change is needed.” Banerjee said Kerala and Tamil Nadu are examples of good results coming from change in government every few years. “Secondly, this government hasn’t done anything for the youth. I am not talking about corruption and cut money because all governments do it,” he added.

Shakib Mollah, runs a tailor shop and came to cast his vote in a booth set up in Chakabanekhan Dakshinpara Primary School. He said he has voted for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief, “She cares for poor people. Her men don’t care. But I hope she will get rid of corrupt people from his party,” he added.

The Uluberia Uttar seat is reserved for the Schedule Castes (SC). From the ruling TMC, two-time MLA Nirmal Majhi is contesting from the seat. Ashok Dalui and Chiran Bera are contesting on CPI(M) and BJP symbols respectively.

To this reporter, BJP workers said that the fact that Bera is known very little in the area and that Majhi is a heavyweight is worrying for them.

Pallab Majhi a BJP supporter, said, “We could have won this seat but bad candidate selection and poor campaigning messed up our prospects. A section of people are not looking at who the candidate is and voting for the symbol. If all the people think on this line we can win this, but it looks unlikely,” he said.

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First time voters – four college students – asked which party is not corrupt and said that they were thankful that the state is “better off than Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.”

Among them, a young woman said,”Wherever BJP is in government they are lording over women, telling us what to wear, what to eat. We don’t want them in Bengal.”

TMC workers check voters’ lists. Photo: Himadri Ghosh

At Rameshwarbati Girls Prathamik School, Parmod Hazara, who own a grocery shop said, “All votes will go to ‘Jai Shri Ram’. This thieving government needs to be uprooted.”

Hazara said that after the Cyclone Amphan, panchayat members took relief money.

“Only TMC leaders, whose houses were not even damaged, got compensation,” he said.

Two senior citizens had differing views after casting their votes at Khalisani Primary School. Nishit Manna said, “TMC appeased Muslims and created a divide in the society. BJP is a new party, they promised a lot of good things. I think we should give it a chance.”

Manna’s friend, who wished not to be named, intervened and said, “Why will BJP be a new party? They have been in government since 2014. They gave lofty promises even then, but didn’t do a single thing. Where is India’s GDP today? BJP is saying they will bring business in Bengal. I want to ask their leadership, how many businesses they brought in India since they came to power?”

More people than not appeared reticent when asked on the elections and refused to speak on them.