Madan Mitra, the jailed former Trinamool Congress minister, will face his election Monday with his constituency, Kamarhati on the northern outskirts of Kolkata, having literally never felt his absence.
Though in jail for more than a year as a prime accused in the Saradha chit fund case, Mitra has kept nursing the constituency with the help of his family and a large number of party leaders loyal to him.
Mitra is not the first candidate in Bengal to have faced an election from behind bars, although there are not too many precedents either. The present state Congress president, Adhir Chowdhury, had contested from jail in 1996. Jailed over charges of alleged murder, he won with a massive margin and captured the once Left citadel of Murshidabad district. Today he is one of the pioneers of the Congress-CPM alliance in this election. Old-timers recall how Adhir’s photo would be placed on a podium like a “martyr” in the 1996 polls and how his speeches, recorded earlier, would be run for hours in Nabagram constituency in Murshidabad.
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Then there was Santosh Rana, a key face of the Naxalite movement of the 1970s. Rana was jailed in 1972 on charges of sedition and waging war against the state. In 1977 he filed his nomination from jail in Gopiballavpur in West Medinipur and won a massive victory. “In 1977, I did not have a single agent in any booth, no political worker to work for me,” Rana told The Indian Express. “My opponent was a CPM nominee. I was about 27 or 28 and full of enthusiasm for the Naxalite movement. After the win, the government treated me as a political prisoner and released me.”
It is such precedents Mitra will be looking at as he seeks a second term. A visit to his constituency revealed the depth of sympathy, at times bordering on hero worship, for this popular leader in many areas. From wards 1 to 7, the residents are largely Muslim — Kamarhati has 60,000-plus Muslim voters — and many swore they are with Mitra.
MacKenzie Road is a Muslim mohalla, a regular venue for evening meetings. Sikander Naz, a local Trinamool leader, addressed the crowd listing the development that Kamarhati has got — illuminated lanes, upgraded parks and playgrounds, roads, schools, the Kanyashree scheme that has helped Muslim girl students. “Madan da is a political victim, a prisoner of political vendetta,” said Sikander as he reminded the audience of the days of the earlier CPM MLA during whose tenure, he said, Muslim youths would vanish and be found murdered. “So, the fight for the communists here is with every youth of Kamarhati, every woman and every household. Our leader is invisible, but he is omnipotent,” said Sikander.
At another rally in Kamarhati in a predominantly Hindu middle-class locality, Suvodeep Mitra, the jailed minister’s younger son, had just addressed a rally. What was his campaign theme? “We took up the challenge on behalf of my father. And our entire family, my mother, my brother, his wife, myself — everyone worked together with a pledge that Madan Mitra has to win to come clean,” the younger son said.
CPM nominee Manas Mukherjee, who lost to Mitra last time by over 34,000 votes, banks his hopes on Congress support. The BJP’s Krishanu Mitra is an young contestant.