Sujata Khan, Saumitra Khan
By Amitava Roy:
A SCHOOL teacher by profession, little did Sujata Khan know that she would have to move out of her cushy world among children and get airdropped into the grinding heat and dust of electioneering. She actively campaigned for her husband, the BJP candidate from Bishnupur Lok Sabha seat Saumitra Khan. Saumitra is probably the only candidate in the country who cannot enter his constituency to campaign, having barred by the court from the limits of Bankura district, within which his constituency Bishnupur is situated. The Calcutta High Court, as a condition for granting anticipatory bail in connection with some cases against him, had directed Saumitra not to enter Bankura district.
The Supreme Court had allowed him to enter the district only on the day of filing nomination papers. Saumitra, who was elected as a Trinamool Congress MP in 2014, left the party in January 2019 to join the BJP. “I left the TMC since it has ceased to be a party of gentlemen,” he said. He claimed to have been slapped with criminal cases the day after he joined the BJP. Saumitra asked his wife Sujata, who has never been in politics before, to lead his election campaign. “My days started at 7 am with padyatras, public meetings and ended well-past midnight after talks with party leaders and workers about strategy and planning,” Sujata said. She was seen walking through villages with folded hands, seeking blessings for her husband.
The scorching sun with temperatures hovering around 42 degree Celsius has tanned her skin, but had little effect on her exuberance for seeing her husband sail through the battle on May 12, when the constituency goes to polls. “I have not seen my husband for some months now, but he keeps guiding me over the phone on where to go, whom to meet and the points on which to stress while speaking at public rallies,” she told PTI. A posse of BJP workers and supporters walked with her as minidor pick-up vans carried life-size photos of her husband. Saumitra claimed that his prospects of winning has increased manifold owing to his wife campaigning for him.
“Because of her popularity, top TMC leaders including Mamata Banerjee, Abhishek Banerjee, Anubrata Mondal and others campaigned for their candidate in Bishnupur,” he said. A primary school teacher in Kolkata, Sujata seemed to have adapted quite well to the nuances of politics within a short time. Asked how she coped with the new role, she said, “There is nothing more challenging than winning the hearts of people and nothing is harder than politics, I did have some anxiety about this in the beginning. “But I had the confidence that I will be able to win over the people who have showered me love and respect in the towns and villages where I went,” she said.
Sujata alleged that people were not allowed to vote in the 2018 West Bengal panchayat elections by the Trinamool Congress and claimed that this anger will be reflected in the Lok Sabha elections, when they hope to be able to exercise their franchise with better security under central forces. “This has been a blessing in disguise for us and is a big plus point for us,” she said. Saumitra, who was then a TMC MP, claimed to have protested the district TMC leadership’s designs to “intimidate Opposition candidates and voters” in the panchayat elections. “But they did not heed my requests.”
TMC candidate Shyamal Santra, who has been propped up by party chief Mamata Banerjee, claimed that the BJP leaders are like migratory birds and would go away after the votes are over. Asked whether he considers the absence of the BJP candidate from the campaign as an advantage, he said that it does not matter who is campaigning and who not, as there are many candidates apart from him. Santra said that his wife Pritikana is also holding roadshows and meetings in his favour. “This is a very big constituency and family members need to participate in the campaign.” Taking a dig at Santra’s wife participating in campaign for her husband, Sujata said “seeing the huge response I am getting, he got his wife to address some meetings, but the attempt has flopped.” Mintu Mondal, a local BJP leader in Onda Assembly constituency, said there is an atmosphere of fear given the panchayat poll experience. “If people can reach polling booths, they will give their answers in the EVMs,” he said, adding if central forces are provided adequately, people will have more confidence. Mondal said that absence of Saumitra has not affected the morale of party workers.
“In fact, Sujata is doing better,” he said. At Chingani, a village in the middle of Joypur forest, Ismail Dalal said that it is not that Hindu votes will go to BJP and Muslim votes will go to TMC only. Denying any divide on religious lines, he said, “may be leaders say all these, but such feeling is not there among people.” “We bathe in the same pond, our children go to the same school and we have tea in the same shop,” said Kamal Hussain, a motor mechanic by profession. The CPI(M) has fielded Sunil Khan, a former MP from Durgapur from 1996 to 2009, following which the constituency was abolished following delimitation. Narayan Chandra Khan is the Congress candidate from Bishnupur. The seat was held by CPI(M) from 1971 to 2014, before which Congress represented the seat.