A red citadel for 34-long-years before the Trinamool Congress bucked the trend in 2014, Midnapore is set to witness a high profile Lok Sabha battle between West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh and veteran Congressman, now Trinamool Congress leader, Manas Bhunia.

Even though the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Congress have also fielded their candidates, the fight is expected to be between Trinamool Congress’s robust organisational structure and Bharatiya Janata Party’s surge in the area since the 2016 state Assembly elections.

After the Communist-led Left Front government crumbled in 2011, a large chunk of the Left support base in the area shifted to the BJP and the Trinamool, both of whom have fielded as candidates so-called sons-of-the-soil who have established themselves in state politics.

Ghosh, known as much for his provocative and fiery speeches as for his success in galvanising the BJP in the state, is boosting the morale of his workers by repeatedly referring to the first general election in 1951 when his party’s previous avatar, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh candidate Durga Charan Banerjee, finished as one of the two victorious MPs from Midnapore-Jhargam (in those days each constituency had double MPs).

Midnapore has been represented in Parliament by stalwarts like VK Krishna Menon (Congress) and former Union Home Minister Indrajit Gupta (CPI), and is one of the few seats where the BJP has had a base over the years. In fact, the party finished second several times in the 1990s and the 2000s.

Midnapore comprises seven assembly segments – Egra, Dantan, Keshiary, Kharagpur, Kharagpur Sadar, Narayangarh and Medinipur. It has close to 15 lakh voters.

The Left lost its 34-year domination of the seat in 2014. The outcome was harsher in the next state assembly election in 2016 as the Left tally came down to nought. In last year’s panchayat election, the Trinamool Congress swept the zilla parishad bagging all the 51 seats and getting over 64 per cent of the vote share.

The BJP witnessed a considerable rise as it managed to secure around 20 per cent vote.

In the 2014 polls, Trinamool Congress’s Sandhya Roy, a popular Bengali actress of yesteryears defeated three time-CPI MP Probodh Panda by over 1.8 lakh votes.

Roy secured 46.5 per cent of the votes while Panda got 31.36 per cent. BJP’s Prabhakar Tiwari emerged a distant third with just over 14 per cent of the vote share. Congress had received an insignificant 3.8 per cent.

In this General Election, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee has dropped the sitting MP and nominated Bhunia, who defected to her party in 2016.

According to locals, in spite of being a seasoned political campaigner, Bhunia would face a formidable challenge from Ghosh, the sitting MLA of Kharagpur, who is popular among his party workers and for being a plain-spoken politician.

“During the state panchayat elections, we managed to win the gram panchayat in Bhunia’s native village. So you can understand that he is not a factor here. The main factor is who can save the locals from Trinamool Congress’s misrule and the answer is BJP,” Ghosh told IANS.

“The people of Midnapore love me and know me well as I have been at the forefront of their battle against mafia-raj in the region since the last two-three years. We are way ahead of Trinamool Congress in Kharagpur, Kharagpur Sadar and Keshiyari and will also get a large chunk of the vote from traditional supporters of the Left elsewhere in the district. The Left is now only represented in election posters,” he said.

Ghosh claimed that many left supporters have switched to the BJP thinking the saffron party has the strength to end the Trinamool Congress’s dominance.

The Trinamool candidate sounded confident but cautious.

“I won’t comment on the result as that is for the people to decide. We will come to know about it on May 23. But I have seen unprecedented support for Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress across Midnapore. People will bless us for the development they have received under this government.

“My political experience says neither the BJP nor anybody else will be able to stop us,” said Bhunia, who fought the 2014 polls from Ghatal on a Congress ticket but lost to Deepak Adhikari (Dev) of the Trinamool Congress.

The election campaigning in the constituency has witnessed a number of violent incidents so far. The BJP has accused the Trinamool Congress of vandalising 21 two-wheelers belonging to their workers and attacking the convoy of Ghosh accompanied by Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, a charge that Trinamool Congress has denied.