[Representational image] | Picture credit: Creative Commons

The Lok Sabha elections 2019 are expected to be an acid test for the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal.

The state’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — also TMC chief — may have a few dissident voters on her hands, all of it in a very unlikely area.

Dozens of families in the seaside beach town of Digha in the state are up in arms over the treatment meted out to their primary wage-earners: menfolk who sell tender coconuts on along the coastline at the popular tourist destination.

And that could be a pointer to who the next prime minister of India will be.

Locals vs leaders

Speaking to Times of Food, a member of the local coconut-sellers’ union explained why people like him most likely veered away from voting for the TMC.

“Our panchayat pradhan — the village chief — was hell-bent on stopping us from selling coconuts along the beaches,” said coconut-seller Vijay [name changed on request.

A village chief is a politically elected figurehead in rural India, akin to the mayors in the urban areas. And Vijay’s village chief got most of the small coconut-selling shacks that dot the Digha coastline removed, said Vijay.

What prompted the village chief to do so is not yet known, and Times of Food could not contact him despite repeated attempts.

Coconut-sellers on a New Digha beach. | Picture credit: Arkadev Ghoshal/Times of Food

The coconut conundrum

Vijay and others facing this plight approached people in the upper echelons of the TMC, but to no avail, he said.

“I have been selling coconuts here for 35 years, and I am not going to give it up,” Vijay said of what happened next.

Upset with no help from the ruling party, Vijay and at least 60 others like him banded together to form the New Digha Coconut Sellers Association.

They gave themselves a uniform, and regularly pool in resources to help out fellow coconut-sellers in need, whether it is to tide over an ailment or get a family-member married.

And their actions are making tourists only happier. Most people who visit Digha do so to take a dip in the sea. They tend to leave some paraphernalia, like their towels and footwear, with the coconut-sellers, and often come back to quench their thirst with a drink of fresh coconut water.

With these people happy, Vijay thinks he has done the right thing: something that will boost the local tourism industry.

[Representational image] A coconut-seller who is part of the association, wearing a t-shirt denoting his membership. | Picture credit: Arkadev Ghoshal/Times of Food

Impact on Lok Sabha elections 2019

However, the bigger impact is political. “I have four members in my family, and none of us support the TMC any more,” explained Vijay.

And that goes for the families of the 60-odd people who were as affected as Vijay, not to mention those sympathising with their cause.

Now, given West Bengal’s population, the number of votes in play here may not be substantial. But this one instance is symptomatic of what the people on the ground are saying about the TMC government in the state.

And now, the exit polls seem to be echoing those sentiments, with the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looking to make inroads into a state that was once a Left bastion, hosting the longest-serving elected Communist government in the world.

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