SHE CARRIES the legacy of her father on her shoulders. Belonging to one of the most well-known families in Kolkata, Baishali Dalmiya is an unexpected entrant in West Bengal politics.
Former BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya’s daughter, the 47-year-old single mother will represent the Trinamool Congress from Bally, which will go to polls on Monday. In all, there are 1.4 lakh voters in Bally, which saw a turnout of 73.78 per cent in the 2011 Assembly polls.
32, Shakespeare Sharani, popularly known as Theatre Road in Kolkata, is an old white-washed colonial bungalow with large colonnades and teak stairs that have turned mahogany dark with time. Trinamool flags now flutter from its gate and fence.
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The office of M L Dalmiya and Company Limited, a construction company set up by Baishali’s grandfather — known hitherto for the construction of Kolkata’s famous Birla Planetarium — has now been converted into her party office. A large portrait of Jagmohan Dalmiya hangs inside the reception. From the floor above, Dalmiya’s son Abhishek runs the 67-year-old company now. He is also the joint secretary of Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). Baisahli is a director of the company.
“Because of our company, I have a background in construction. I understand infrastructure. I understand how to construct. And this is the main push of Trinamool — infrastructure and development. So, I feel I can bring a lot to the table,” said Baishali.
However, the large Marwari community in Bally is yet to be convinced. Baldev Aggarwal, owner of a little grocery in Bally, said: “The exit polls say the Left is winning here… We know Baishali Dalmiya is Jagmohan Dalmiya’s daughter but that is it. Who knows her here? Nobody. Besides she is not from Bally. If we have a complaint or need any work to be done, are we expected to travel all the way to Kolkata?”
He added: “Is there a BJP candidate from here? I haven’t heard. I know Roopa Ganguly (BJP) is contesting from North Howrah but I haven’t heard anything about Bally.’’
Abhay Awasthi, a student, was more unambiguous. “If there is a BJP candidate in our area, all Marwaris and Biharis will vote for him. I can’t tell you why, but BJP is the way to go… It is a good thing that Trinamool has given her (Baishali) the ticket. We are not happy with the Sultan Singh (Trinamool sitting MLA from Bally). He is not a bad person but he has not done anything.”
Bally, like most of Howrah, had been a heavily industrialised area — mainly dealing in iron industry — during the CPM era. This, till the factories started shutting down and were replaced with real estate business.
“Everywhere you look, there are buildings now. It made more sense for owners to shut down their factories and sell land for real estate for a quick profit. Most people here have jobs, but they have travel to Kolkata every day for it,” said Aggarwal.
Besides trying to tap Marwari votes, analysts said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s choice may have also been strategic.
With the CAB being a highly politicised body, and the Dalmiyas being intrinsically linked to Bengal cricket, it is a way for Mamata to keep a hold over the board, adding to her national clout.
One of Baishali’s promises is that she will bring a sports academy to Bally. “I love sports… I belong to the world of sports, I have grown up with it. My main platform is infrastructure — roads, electricity, etc. The area suffers from a water problem but I will solve the same,” she said.
Since the announcement of her candidature, Baishali has hired two burly bodyguards who now camp at the back of her SUV. “I usually get home very late,” she explained.
“When we were small, we didn’t even know my father was important or had such public standing. There were rules in our home. My brother and I were not allowed to travel in AC cars, we were not allowed to wear branded clothes. I was not allowed to wear sleeveless clothes. This habit has remained,” she added.
Despite her claims at simplicity, Baishali straddles two different worlds.
While she runs an NGO, Ullas, which works with old age homes, orphanages and the transgender community, she also owns Green Pigeon Movies — a production house for motion pictures and distribution of movies. She has only produced one Bengali movie so far though – Bhorer Allo — which was released in 2010.
“I met Didi in July last year, before my father’s death. I told her I wanted to work with her. But I did not expect her to give me a ticket. I only found out watching the news on TV. I am glad that I got Bally and not a constituency is South Kolkata. So far, my social work can be seen in villages. I want to make a difference.”