By Md. Hasanujjaman
I remember the year of 2004. I was a fourteen-year-old. I had no understanding of politics at the time. My father was a devoted Congress worker. He loved the party blindly and was never critical of it. He used to get into the crowd whenever there was an election rally or a meeting. I followed in my father’s footsteps. I was too young to understand politics. Election rally or meeting was just a matter of entertainment for me. I loved roaming around with my father during the political rallies or meetings in our local area. In 2004, there was a Lok Sabha election and Pranab Mukherjee was a candidate from our constituency. I hardly knew anything about his past political career. I only knew that he was not from Murshidabad. He came from Mirati in Birbhum district. Mukherjee looked like a very decent and soft spoken man and greeted people nicely, something that impressed me.
He was no less than a complete stranger to the people of Jangipur Lok Sabha constituency until he arrived for his election campaign as a Congress candidate. It was also widely known to us that he was brought in by the Berhampore MP Adhir Ranjan Chaudhury, who had a reputation in the district. It was also because of him that Mukherjee was accepted by the people of Jangipur Lok Sabha constituency. The people from the area accepted Mukherjee as a son of the soil without any suspicion about his intention. People gave him not only respect but also trusted him religiously. People took him as a new avatar of hope and development, as the people of Murshidabad lived an underdeveloped and deprived life in the post-Partition era. Along with many other political issues, he also campaigned on the plank of ‘nodi vangon protirodh’ (resisting Ganga River erosion). He insisted that if he won the election, he would work towards resisting the erosion of the Ganga.
Apart from the acute poverty, illiteracy, underdevelopment and socio-political and economic deprivation, the people of Murshidabad and, especially the people of Jangipur region (which is the bypass route of the Ganga), suffer from erosion of the Ganga. The localities of north Murshidabad situated in the south-east of Farakka Barrage face a grave situation every year during the rainy season. During monsoon, the localities live under intense fear and uncertainty of losing their homes and their livelihood. The houses and the amenities are washed away by the Ganga every year. This is irreversible and has become a common phenomenon.
During the election campaigns in 2004, Mukherjee brought a new hope to the people of Jangipur. The region is one of most crowded and backward regions not just in the state but also in the country, comprising people of all faiths and classes. Ninety percent people in the district are beedi (hand-rolled cigarettes) workers living a pathetic life. For their livelihood, they depend on agriculture, beedi-making, and other casual work. Mukherjee visited all the localities of his constituency and campaigned door-to-door with a promise of development and finding a solution to the problem of river erosion. He even criticised the Left-ruled state government for inaction and indifference to this grave problem. He proclaimed loudly, “amake vote din, ami nodi vangon protirodh korbo” (Elect me and I will stop the river erosion). People cheered for him without pondering.
After the 2004 enthusiastic election campaign, Mukhrejee became a Member of Parliament (MP) and then an important figure in the UPA government. He handled various ministries such as defence and foreign in the newly elected government. In 2009, he contested again from the Jangipur Lok Sabha constituency. He repeated his promise of resisting river erosion. People again believed him and ensured a landslide victory. After his victory he rose to be a top policy maker after the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. He helped set up a branch of Aligarh Muslim University campus in Murshidabad, opened a PF office and a hospital for the beedi workers, and established an army regiment centre in the region. But he forgot his promise of resisting river erosion. In the last stage of his political career, he reached the pinnacle of success by becoming the 13th President of the nation. The people of Jangipur celebrated his success forgetting Mukherjee’s promise of ‘nodi vangon protirodh prokolpo’.
Like every year, the people of Dhanghora of Samserganj in Jangipur constituency still fondly remember his unfulfilled promise. This year the pandemic has further compounded the crisis in the lives of people in the district. As people desperately look for work, the villages of Dhanghora, Chachanda, Shibpur and Aurangabad of Samserganj block are badly hit by the Ganga. They have lost their homes and belongings. Most people living in the area are beedi workers and many of them are newcomers to the village. Most of the families have managed to build their two or three roomed single-storey concrete houses recently. The area is spectacularly crowded with dingy lanes and cramped spaces without any water supply and sanitation facilities and other basic infrastructure. I felt anguished and helpless while visiting the place.
Since the last week of August, the Ganga has swollen dangerously because of incessant rain. The heavy rain and accumulated water have caused a huge land erosion at the Dhanghora village. The people who have lived in the area for decades now face a nightmare. Around 70 houses have completely collapsed into the cycling water of the Ganga within a very short span of time. Another 100 houses are on the verge of collapse. The residents have lost everything they possessed. They are now left destitute on the streets.
The residents in the remaining houses are doing their best to save their belongings as much as possible. They are dismantling the houses to take windows, doors and bricks with the hope of rebuilding their houses somewhere else. They are now busy carrying the necessary belongings to a safe distance. But those whose houses have already submerged under the river are in utter destitution. Most of them do not have any other land to rebuild their houses. Now they search for a piece of land and a home to settle. While the members of the family are inconsolable, the children feel bewildered. Women of all ages and, especially the young, ones are extremely vulnerable without homes and privacy. The pangs of suffering and their hopelessness are visible in their eyes. The only sustenance for them is the beedi work which provides just about enough money to survive.
What the calamity has brought to the fore is political inaction. Since the erosion began, the governments have hardly taken any measure to stop this tragedy during a pandemic. The state has done very little in the last few decades, despite knowing the impending danger. The former MP Abul Hasnat Khan and educationist Mr. Julfikar of Samserganj say that the government water department had planned to safeguard the river banks till 80 kms in the south-east of Farakka Barrage towards Jalangi and 40 kms in the northeast of Farakka Barrage. Unfortunately the project has remained just a proposal confined in the office files. The local people are unaware of such a proposal and their implementation.
The land erosion has been hastened by illegal brick-kilns, run by land mafias with the help of politicians and the police. The residents wait silently for their turn to be submerged under the river. The rich become richer and the poor residents lose their homes, livelihood and the future of their children. This is how the world writes the sad stories of the poor and the destitute.
Md. Hasanujjaman, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Gushkara Mahavidyalaya Burdwan, West Bengal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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