Bankura, famous for its red soil that goes into making terracotta artifacts, is a stronghold of CPI(M) with 72-year- old Acharia having held the fort for over last 34 years after he won this Lok Sabha seat way back in 1980. Veteran Acharia is pitted against 60-year-old Sen, who is making her debut in the election arena on a Trinamool ticket, Congress' Nilmadhab Gupta, Chowdhury from BSP and BJP's Sarkar, a practising gynaecologist.
Interestingly, four candidates representing 'Jharkhand' interests are also in the fray. According to reports, Maoists are said to be regrouping in the tribal Jangalmahal area of Bankura ahead of polling on May 7 to disrupt the elections. That, however, hasn't deterred candidates from going the extra mile in this searing heat where the temperature hovers around 42 degrees during day. Public meetings, rallies and door-to-door campaigns are in full swing to woo the 15 lakh-strong electorate here.
9-time MP Basudeb Acharia will take on veteran actress Moon Moon Sen on May 7
The political topography of Bankura, which lies between the Chota Nagpur Plateau on the west and the Ganges Delta on east, has changed since 2009 Lok Sabha elections when the Left was ahead in six of the seven Assembly segments. Acharia had won by a margin of over 1 lakh votes in this Lok Sabha seat in 2009. In the 2011 Assembly polls, Trinamool won four of the seven segments within this Lok Sabha constituency. The Mamata Banerjee-led party, which toppled the 34-year-old Left rule in the state in 2011, also won 41 of 46 seats in the Zilla Parishad during panchayat polls last year.
Moon Moon Sen, daughter of screen legend Suchitra Sen, has attacked Acharia's claims of development and is banking on the ruling TMC government's works to sail through. Sen, whose husband Bharat Dev Varma belongs to a Scheduled Tribe, says: "There is no evidence of Basudeb Acharia having done any work in his constituency. There has been no development in terms of roads or drinking water supply, which is a major issue here.
"I went to Basudeb babu's village, it is one of the poorest and most neglected villages in Bankura," she says, adding that one has "to see it to believe it". Acharia, on the other hand, is sure of tackling the film artiste, dubbed by some as his main opponent here. "Ours is not a fight against any person, we are fighting against Trinamool Congress. So whether it is a film artiste or anyone else, I am not affected by that," says the veteran parliamentarians.
Asked if he is finding this election to be different from the ones in the past, the CPI-M leader says, "Yes, the situation has changed. We are not in government, they are using the administration. "But we are confident of winning comfortably," he adds. Sen, whose real name is Sreemati Dev Varma and whose candidature from here surprised many in the political circles, is also confident about winning. She brought her daughters, actresses Raima and Riya, to campaign for her in this veritable dust bowl.
"It will be a win for Mamata Banerjee," says Sen, who is close to the state chief minister. BJP candidate Dr Subhash Sarkar is hoping to emerge as the dark horse. "I am 100 per cent assured of winning and I am getting a very good response," he claims. Like many other saffron party candidates elsewhere in the country, the 60-year old Sarkar is a Narendra Modi fan. "The whole of India wants Narendra Modi as the prime minister and Bankura will also not be different.
"Add to this my popularity as a doctor," he says, claiming to have delivered 30,000 babies. Other candidates in the fray include Kabita Singha Babu (SUCI), Paresh Marandi (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha), Panmani Besra (Jharkhand Disom Party), Prabir Banerjee (Jharkhand Anushilan Party), Shib Sankar Ghosh (Jharkhand Vikas Morcha), Sudhir Kumar Murmu of CPI(M-L) and Hulu Khetrapal (Bahujan Mukti Party). The tribal population of Bankura is about 40 per cent.