RESIDENTS of Gajapaikshita and Bonogram, two villages of Satg-achia, Basu's assembly constituency since '77, are once again planning a boycott of the elections. In 1996, all 640 voters of these twin villages had boycotted the assembly and parliamentary elections in a bid for better roads, more water, electricity and schools. Says Saidul Islam Mondal, 27, a graduate who runs a stationery shack: "If I vote, I don't gain anything. So why vote at all?"
Some 14 years ago, electricity poles were put up, transmission lines hung out and a transmitter installed. But electricity never flowed through the lines. Today, the defunct power lines are used as handy clotheslines. Near the rotting electricity transmitter in Bonogram is a 'ghost' school that has never seen benches, chairs, students or teachers since construction began 14 years ago. Locals gamble and defecate inside and during elections, the school-that-never-was turns into a polling booth.
In many ways, Satgachia is an apt metaphor for the abominable quality of infrastructure in West Bengal: dangerously bad roads, half-finished rural electrification projects, lack of drinking water, derelict hospitals and shabby schools.
In this predominantly semi-urban constituency of 120 villages, some 40 kms from Calcutta over 16,000 families are landless or homeless. Some 70 per cent of the roads are kutcha, and some 30 per cent of 487 tubewells are defunct. Farming incomes—there are over 33,000 farmers, cultivators and agricultural labourers—are supplemented by the 800-odd nurseries and zari embroidery.
Not surprisingly, Basu's borough is seething with discontent. In 1996, the chief minister got a jolt when he scraped through by a margin of a little over 11,000 votes—down from 38,446 in 1977—against Chittaranjan Bag of the Congress, a 66-year-old lawyer from Calcutta.
"The Left Front," Basu thundered at a election rally in the area two years ago, "doesn't believe that one constituency is more equal than the others." His opponents are more critical of his inability to follow up on infrastructural requirements for the constituency. Says Bag: "Basu listens carefully, but he doesn't work." As a description of an aspiring prime minister, that doesn't augur well.