It was in 1986 that the then Prime Minister had told Manas Bhunia, then a first-time MLA from Sobong Assembly seat in West Bengal’s East Midnapore district, that “life’s a risk, take it”.
Twenty-eight years later, Bhunia, still an MLA from Sobong — since 1982, he lost only once from the seat, in 1996, to Makhan Lal Bangal, Independent. He had lost to CPM’s Tushar Kanti Laya in 2001 by 397 votes but won in re-election — has not forgotten Rajiv’s advice.
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He has again taken a risk, despite having reservations, on the orders of the late PM’s son and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Bhunia, a physician, has jumped into the parliamentary elections, as Congress candidate from Ghatal — a seat that was won consecutively in 2004 and 2009 by CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta. He is pitted against CPM’s Santosh Rana and Tollywood actor and Trinamool Congress candidate Deepak Adhikary alias Dev.
The last time Bhunia received an offer to contest the Lok Sabha election was in 1984, two years after he became an MLA. The offer had come from the then PCC chief Gopal Das Nag and senior party leader Pranab Mukherjee. He had refused saying he did not want to leave the people of Sobong.
This time Bhunia could not resist. It was on during a meeting on March 3 that Rahul asked senior party leaders in Bengal to contest setting a cat among pigeons. Many seniors refused — party spokesman Abdul Mannan cited his injured leg while former PCC chief Pradip Bhattacharya cited old age as excuses.
Bhunia too tried to wriggle out by first pushing East Midnapore district Congress chief Jagannath Goswamy, and then his wife Geeta Bhuina, as candidates. But Rahul was adamant and both Mannan and Bhunia had to join the electoral fray.
“I never said I was not willing. I said Jagannath and Geeta could become good candidates,” Bhunia said, adding “any assignment by Rahul is like an order (for me)”.
He is also unperturbed about his rivals. “I do not mind who my competitor is. He can be an actor, an academician, anybody. I have been given a task by (party president) Sonia Gandhi and Rahul and I am doing it sincerely,” the veteran leader said.