WEST BENGAL: A Battle from the Hearts in Raiganj
From our Special Correspondent
“DIL se Salim, Phir se Salim” is the war cry of the CPI(M) cadres, supporters and people of the Raiganj Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Dinajpur district of West Bengal. This constituency with approximately 14 lakh electorate has once been a Congress stronghold with exceptions on certain occasions. The CPI(M) with sustained efforts and enthusiastic campaigning was able to harness the deep-rooted sense of betrayal amongst the common man against the then incumbent member of parliament of the Indian National Congress and wrest the seat from her in 2014.
After winning the elections, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Md Salim has with steadfast devotion and conscientiousness served the people of the constituency and been by their side through thick and thin. Salim is not one of those absentee MPs who only pay a visit to his constituency every five years to seek votes. As a true representative of the people, he has been by their side in rain and shine. He visited his constituency regularly, sometimes on a weekly basis, to be one with the people of Raiganj, to give a patient hearing to and then going about resolving their problems.
He worked assiduously in disentangling the lives of the common voters, relentlessly persecuted by the vagaries of daily struggle for existence. Every resident of Raiganj, irrespective of whether they had voted for Salim or not, was extended a helping hand. In the 16th Lok Sabha from 2014-2019, Salim had recommended around Rs 28.88 crore for development work, of which Rs 21.51 crore was sanctioned by the centre. Around Rs 20.05 crore was spent from the sanctioned amount in more than 378 development projects all across his constituency. He set a record in the utilisation of his MPLAD funds. This has been done despite obstacles in administration and resistance from the ruling party. The district administration had been deliberately slow in releasing utilisation certificates thereby creating roadblocks in the way for the release of funds for the subsequent year. Scores of roads were constructed in Uttar Dinajpur. The infrastructure of 50 educational institutions was augmented. The construction of 39 bridges and culverts have helped in bringing about a sea change in the way people commuted from one far-flung places to another. To improve the health care system in the district, 22 projects were taken up to improve and expand the condition of health centres and hospitals. 24 projects, along with 10 passenger shades and five community centres, were built for the benefit of the common citizens. The facilities at ICDS centres, which are usually accessed by the people belonging to the marginalised sections of the society, were improved.
During the devastating floods of 2017, which ravaged the entire north Bengal, Salim toiled day and night to be by the side of the distraught victims. He visited every nook and corner of the devastated district, often travelling in small boats to reach relief to the people who had lost all their belongings in the floods. He was seen holding the hands of the victims and listening to their woes. He threw caution to the wind and walked over narrow bamboo planks to reach people who were stranded and devoid of food and shelter. Salim was a beacon of hope for these victims of nature’s fury.
Salim has been an outstanding parliamentarian whose presence in parliament has been more than the national average of 80 per cent, at 85 per cent. An orator par excellence, he has been the voice to reckon with. He has participated in 85 debates and raised 97 questions – the lone crusader who has made himself heard every time he rose to speak about the rights of the marginalised and downtrodden people. Salim tore into the representatives of the government consistently each and every time they proposed to bring any anti-people policy into force. Whether it was about cow vigilantism, or mob lynching, attacks against minorities and dalits, farmer suicides, it has been Salim who rose to his feet and with his razor-sharp arguments placed before the Lok Sabha the cause of the under-privileged victims. The fall-outs of the ill-timed, not-called-for demonetisation and GST were also debated. His fiery speeches defending the cause of outlying citizens of this country, who are deprived of their basic right of livelihood, have been appreciated by one and all in the precincts of the august house. Salim has been the voice of all those who have been pushed into the margin. He has been the voice of all those hapless people who have never been heard before.
And, therefore, the people of Raiganj are out on the streets with ‘Phir se Salim, Dil se Salim’ on their lips as Salim traverses the length and breadth of his constituency seeking votes for re-election. With no motorcade and no super deluxe SUVs, Salim negotiates the lanes and by-lanes of Raiganj on foot touching every life on his trail. The CPI(M) candidate’s expenditure is crowdfunded. Particularly, youths are joining in numbers in support of him. Among his opponents, the TMC candidate is known to be close to RSS while there is an official BJP candidate. The Congress has fielded former MP Deepa Dasmunshi, deliberately rejecting the effort of mutual no-contest in seats won by anti-BJP, anti-TMC forces in the last election.