Sheikh Shaukat Ali of Makra village in Birbhum district did not attend the rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that was held at Ilambazar on April 24 just a few kilometres away from his home. He did not even turn on the television to listen to his speech.
In the past, Mr. Ali and his family members have attended almost every rally of the BJP. They once even travelled over 200 km to meet BJP president Amit Shah in Kolkata, but this time he and his family members have stayed away from all political activities.
Long before the BJP emerged as the main challenger to the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Mr. Ali’s son Tausif, a BJP supporter, was killed by alleged TMC activists in October 2014. The murder had triggered a flurry of political activity with top-level national BJP leaders rushing to Makra village.
Only TMC posters
Five years later, as Birbhum goes to the polls on April 29, Makra village shows no sign of BJP’s presence, and only the TMC features in posters and graffiti. “This time we will have to vote for TMC,” said Mr. Ali.
Enamul Haque, a TMC leader, said that there are no BJP supporters left in the village. “Everything is peaceful here. Our family and Shaukat Ali’s family are like relatives now,” said Mr. Haque, whose brother was also killed in the political violence in 2014.
Makra is a classic case of silent intimidation, not allowing the Opposition any scope even in private conversation. In the panchayat polls held last year, the TMC had won 87% of the gram panchayat seats in the district without any contest.
The general election is a direct contest between the TMC and the BJP. Tollywood star Shatabdi Roy, who has been the sitting MP here since 2009, is seeking re-election on the TMC ticket. She faces Dudh Kumar Mondal, a BJP strongman who had left the party in 2015.
But the most-talked-about political personality in the district is neither of the two candidates or those contesting from adjoining Bolpur seat; it is TMC Birbhum district president Anubrata Mondal.
Anubrata’s political innuendos — from unnayan (development) standing in the way of Opposition fielding candidates in the panchayat polls to offering sweets to the Election Commission during the recent polls — have been noticed by the poll panel, but the TMC leader remains unfazed. “I can promise peaceful polls only if the Opposition does not bring outsiders and tries to create problem,” he said.
According to the 2011 census, the district has 37.2% Muslim population. While large parts of Birbhum are known for illegal sand mining in riverbeds, there are stone quarries in the Pachami area bordering Jharkhand and Deocha-Pachami coal block, considered the second largest in the world.