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LS elections: Poor mango yield, soil erosion, CAA top poll talk as Malda gears up to vote in Phase 3

Malda: Home to some of the juiciest and most delectable varieties of mangoes that are joyfully sampled and marketed across the country and beyond, Malda, along with the neighbouring Murshidabad district of West Bengal, will go to polls in Phase 3 of the ongoing general elections.
Four Lok Sabha segments in Bengal--Jangipur, Malda Uttar, Malda Dakshin, and Murshidabad--will poll in the third phase on May 7.
River erosion, inadequate healthcare infrastructure and perennial drinking water problems are the key electoral and campaign issues going into the polling in Malda on Tuesday, next week.
The mango growers of Malda are staring at an unusually dry season this year, as untimely rains followed by a sweltering heatwave have cut the yield this season by as much as 75 per cent.
With the mercury regularly breaching the 40°C-mark in Malda amid the prevailing heatwave, the parched fields in the district deepened the worries of the farmers. The mango growers also fear significant losses this year as unseasonal rains and the sweltering heat thereafter are likely to affect their produce adversely.
Ujjal Saha, the president of Malda Mango Merchants Association, voiced his concerns over the mango yield being affected by the elements this year, saying, "Malda has already lost one-half of its total mango produce this year on account of unseasonal rain and the unrelenting heatwave that has prevailed in the district thereafter."
Ramesh, who works in a mango orchard in Malda, also conveyed concerns over the impact of indifferent weather on the seasonal harvest to ANI, saying, "Due to untimely rains followed by a sweltering heatwave thereafter, our mango produce this year is down by at least 75 per cent. We normally bring home a good harvest when the weather is favourable. While normally, we post mango sales in the region of Rs 5 to 10 lakh, the figure is likely to be down to about Rs 2 lakh this season. We are staring at a significant loss this year."
He urged more hand-holding and support from the government to distressed mango growers to boost yield amid the unforgiving weather.
Another mango grower, Jiten Saha, echoed similar concerns saying, "Due to the prolonged dry spell after unseasonal rains, the mangoes fell off the trees before they could ripen. We bring home a good yield when we receive adequate rainfall. It would help us a lot if the government could announce some steps to support us this lean harvest season."
Also conveying concerns arising out of persistent river erosion and inadequate drinking water, locals said the gap between the Ganga and the Fulahar (a river that originates in Nepal) was gradually decreasing, rendering the soft soil vulnerable to erosion.
Among other issues hogging the campaign discourse going into the elections on May 7 is the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the central legislation under which minority refugees from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who fled violence and alleged persecution back home, are to be accorded permanent residency in the country. The controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC), illegal immigration and women's safety are also central to the discourse going into the elections.
Speaking to ANI, sitting BJP MP Khagen Murmu, who is seeking a fresh term in the Lok Sabha from Malda Uttar, said, "The voters are ready to bless us again in the 2024 elections just like they did in 2019. Wherever I have gone to campaign, I have received a lot of affect, support and blessings from the people."
Hitting back at Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who recently questioned where he was when the Centre allegedly stopped funds for 100 days' work under MGNREGA, Murmu said the ruling TMC took money from the people in lieu of jobs.
Malda Uttar is set to see a triangular contest pitting sitting MP Murmu against Mostaque Alam of the Congress and police officer-turned-politician Prasun Banerjee of the TMC.
A Santhali leader, Murmu was previously elected MLA from the Habibpur constituency on a CPI(M) ticket in 2001. He served four terms as the CPI(M) MLA from Habibpur--from 2001 to 2019.
However, he switched over to the BJP in 2019 and was rewarded with a ticket to contest the Malda Uttar Lok Sabha constituency in the general elections that year.
TMC's Prasun Banerjee served as Superintendent of Police of Malda and the Special Superintendent of Malda CID. He was also posted as the Superintendent of Police in South Dinajpur district twice. He joined the Trinamool Congress after serving as an IPS officer of the rank of IG in the Raiganj range.
Campaigning for the former police officer, CM Mamata dared the BJP to come clean on what it had done for the people of the constituency in the last five years. She also accused the Congress and the CPI(M) of helping the BJP in the state.
The TMC candidate also sparked a major controversy earlier after he said at a campaign event that the people could trust him to be there if the central forces tried to intimidate them during polling for Malda Uttar.
"I am reminding the BSF and the central paramilitary forces to operate within the bounds of law. We will also respect the boundaries set by the law of the land. We all want the polling to be free and fair. However, if the central forces try to intimidate you in any way, tell them that I am Prasun Banerjee. Main hoon an (I am there for you all)," the TMC candidate said.
The Congress' Mostaque Alam has held several positions within the party at the district and state levels.
In the 2019 elections, Khagen Murmu received 37.61 per cent of the total votes polled and trounced Mausam Noor, who was then with the Congress and is now in the TMC, by a margin of 84,288 votes. Isha Khan Choudhury of the Congress and Biswanath Ghosh of CPI(M) stood in third and fourth in the final tally.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Noor defeated Murmu, who ran on a CPI(M) ticket, bagging 33.41 per cent of the total votes polled.
In Malda Dakshin, the Congress' Isha Khan Choudhury faces formidable opponents in the form of the BJP's Sreerupa Mitra Chaudhury and Shahnawaz Ali Raihan of the TMC.
Known locally as the 'Nirbhaya Didi' of Kolkata, Sreerupa was involved in the process of rehabilitation of rape victims while also providing toilets for women. She also chaired a special task force on rape, trafficking and violence against women set up by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the horrific gangrape and murder of a paramedical student in the national capital in 2012.
She resigned from this post in December 2013, amid speculations that she might contest the Malda Lok Sabha seat on a TMC ticket. Chaudhury, who contested the South Delhi Lok Sabha seat unsuccessfully in 2014, got just 803 votes.
In 2019, she contested Malda Dakshin on a BJP ticket but lost to Congress' Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury by a small margin.
In the 2021 assembly elections, Chaudhury again contested on a BJP ticket from English Bazar and won over her nearest TMC rival.
Isha Khan Choudhury emerged victorious from the Baisnabnagar constituency as a Congress candidate in the 2011 assembly elections, getting the better of his nearest TMC rival.
In the 2016 assembly elections, he contested the Sujapur constituency "at the direction of the party high command". He was pitted against his own uncle Abu Nasar, who switched to the Trinamool Congress. After claiming that his uncle did little to help or benefit the people, he trounced the former securing 97,000 votes.
Speaking to ANI, the Congress candidate from Malda Dakshin, said, "I trust the voters to right assess the prevailing state of affairs here and make the right choice during the elections. Every time, when the elections are round the corner, the BJP brings up NRC and CAA but when the polls are done and dusted, the talk dies down. However, people can now see through their designs. They will vote their conscience this time, without fear. We believe the people are with us and we will win both Malda Uttar and Dakshin."
The Malda Dakshin constituency consists of seven assembly segments--Manikcha, English Bazar, Mothabar, Sujapur, Baishnab Nagar, Farakka, and Samserganj.
The sitting Malda South MP and Congress leader, Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury (Dalu), hasn't lost the seat since 2009 but his margin of victory has been narrowing. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, his victory margin over Sreerupa Mitra Chaudhury was just 0.6 per cent.
Though the TMC is still part of the INDIA bloc, it did not go into a seat-sharing alliance with its partners in the Opposition alliance--Congress and the Left.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC won 34 seats in the state while the BJP had to settle for just 2. The CPI(M) won 2 seats, while the Congress bagged 4.
In the 2019 general elections, the TMC dropped to 22 seats while the BJP saw the lotus bloom in 18 seats. The Congress brought up the rear, winning just 2 seats.
Polling for six Lok Sabha seats in Bengal was held across the first two phases on April 19 and 26.
Polling for the remaining parliamentary seats will be held on May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25, and June 1.

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