Last Sunday, voters in West Bengal’s Kamarhati witnessed an unfamiliar campaign. It was the wife and two sons of candidate Madan Mitra who hit the streets to seek votes on his behalf. Mitra, a Trinamool Congress minister until he was jailed, is contesting from behind bars and his family was seeking to draw public sympathy. Indeed, when it comes to popularity, Mitra is possibly second only to Mamata Banerjee among leaders in her cabinet.
Incidentally, Mitra is also among the 11 Trinamool leaders who appear in a sting video that show them allegedly accepting bribes. Once again, it is his family that has dismissed the allegation, saying that he has denied taking a bribe — purportedly Rs 5 lakh — or that he knew anyone called Santosh Shankaran, the name used in the sting.
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Although Mitra remains the clear favourite from Kamarhati, his renomination is widely being seen as a gamble by Mamata. The CBI is said to be close to wrapping up its investigation as far as Mitra’s role in the Saradha chit fund scam is concerned.
And Mitra is only one of many choices that could potentially backfire on Mamata. She has renominated a number of leaders who have been facing protests in their respective constituencies.
“Why shouldn’t I nominate Madan Mitra? What is his fault?” Mamata said. “He was the MLA from Kamarhati and he will be the MLA once again. If the CBI has got anything against him, let them prove it.”
No other leader linked to the Saradha scam has been as fortunate, however. Kunal Ghosh, Rajat Majumdar and Shankudeb Ponda are outcasts now. Even someone as prominent as Mukul Roy had been sidelined for a year — and many party leaders said this was because the CBI had summoned him in connection with the Saradha scam.
What then makes Mitra an exception? A close aide of Mamata from South Kolkata guessed that there might be several reasons. For one thing, Mitra’s home is in Bhowanipore — Mamata’s home constituency — and denying him a ticket might have upset his countless committed fans, not only in that constituency but elsewhere too. Another reason cited by Mamata’s aide could be more emotional than strategic — Mamata and Mitra have been contemporaries since their days in student politics.
A number of party leaders feel that a decision influenced more by emotion than by reasoning might backfire on the party, should Mitra be convicted in the coming weeks. They point out that Mamata has already been caught on the wrong foot once. When the CBI had taken Mitra into custody in December 2014, Mamata had not accepted his resignation. By sitting on it for a year and a half, she had ended up giving the CBI counsel the ground to stress Mitra’s tremendous clout as a politician and use that as an argument that he should be kept behind bars.
The past week, meanwhile, has seen a number of demonstrations and roadblocks in many parts of the state against the candidates Mamata has chosen. She has been refusing to make any changes, something her close associates attribute to “superstition”. She apparently wants to keep intact the combination that brought her such a handsome victory in 2011. Her aides said she wanted these leaders to face the test rather than be deprived nominations, and that she has indicated that she would deal with incompetence after the polls when she distributes portfolios and posts again. Top party leaders agree that this strategy, too, could prove counterproductive.
Sonali Guha, Satgachia
Deputy Speaker in Assembly. Voters had requested Mamata Banerjee not to nominate her as she had allegedly ignored her constituency. Days before announcing her candidates, Mamata deputed her MP nephew Abhisekh to hold a meeting and ease some of the building tension.
Abdur Rezzak Mollah, Bhangar
Local TMC workers had resolved they would not accept the nomination of Rezzak Mollah, a veteran formerly with CPM. After Rezzak Mollah was named, panchayat leader Abdul Samad Mollah has threatened to contest as an independent.
Debashree Roy, Raidighi
Voters grumble that the actress-turned-MLA is rarely present, never accessible. At a meeting with legislators, Mamata defended Debashree, saying a film star has other engagements, but warned Debashree too, saying one has to fulfil one’s commitments when holding a public office.
Dr Nirmal Majhi, Uluberia North
Against him, too, the complaint is of neglecting the constituency. Local people have taken out rallies and put up posters demanding that he be replaced, and warned that he cannot be assured of victory. Dr Manjhi himself has said he has done lot of developmental work.
Brojo Mohan Majumdar, Howrah South
This award winning teacher’s constituency has seen ugly demonstrations and roadblocks following his renomination Ticket aspirant Masud Alam Khan led several thousand supporters who blocked entry and exit of oil tankers from Mourigram depot and stopped a ferry service across the Hooghly.