In Didi’s seat, Netaji’s kin from Harvard vs CPM’s PhD

He is a Harvard professor who wants to see Mamata Banerjee as prime minister, and whom Mamata herself sees fit to contest the seat she once represented. 

Professor Sugata Bose, Gardiner Chair of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard University, is Mamata’s candidate in Jadavpur, a constituency with a history that makes it one of Bengal’s most prestigious. It was from here that Mamata, then with the Congress, won her first election, defeating CPM stalwart Somnath Chatterjee. The seat, which has seven assembly segments and a mixture of urban, semi-urban and rural populations, has witnessed several heavyweight politicians contesting its election.

After Professor Amit Mitra, Bose is Mamata’s second pick from among academics based out of the country.

Bose, a grand-nephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, is up against CPM candidate Sujan Chakraborty, who had defeated Bose’s mother Krishna in 2004 before losing to Trinamool candidate Kabir Suman in 2009. Chakraborty is a Ph D in pharmaceutical engineering from Jadavpur University .

Bose dismisses the race between the two main contenders for the prime minister’s chair: “I don’t believe Indian politics is so impoverished as to be reduced to a choice between two candidates who are only engrossed in running a glitzy advertising campaign,” he says.

He refers to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who said on TV in 2013 that he did not want to see Narendra Modi as his prime minister. “I share a very cordial relationship with Professor Sen and I second his opinion on Narendra Modi,” Bose says.

“We need a prime minister who has the faith and support of all communities,” he adds. “I personally want to see Mamata Banerjee in the chair of prime minister, though she has no personal ambition.”

Bose, new to Jadavpur, says he is not worried about his rival, an experienced contestant there. “I have nothing to comment on CPM candidate Sujan Chakraborty. I am a professor and I will run a healthy campaign. I will tell people what I want to do,” Bose said.

And Chakraborty, a district secretary for South 24-Parganas, said, “I have heard that Sugata Bose has taken leave to fight the election, which implies that he will go back to that country after the polls are over. His mother had always stayed here and won. But he has studied and now works abroad. The people will decide whom they want.”

Indeed, Bose says he does not plan to relocate at the moment. “I will take public service leave from the university and will campaign here. I have done research work on peasants of India and know the constituency as my mother has been an MP for three terms, during the most difficult time.”

Bose did his Ph D at University of Cambridge before being named a Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. His mother contested from Jadavpur as a Trinamool candidate four times and lost only that one poll to Chakraborty.

Krishna Bose supports her son’s decision to contest. “My son is a scholar. He belongs to a different society, leads a different life, yet he has agreed to become a candidate because he thinks this election will be a defining one.”

Sugata Bose’s students too are excited about his candidacy. He says he has been flooded with emails from them. “They are thrilled,” he smiles.

But students in Presidency University are outraged. Bose is chairman of the university’s mentor group. Independentents’ Consolidation, the organisation that runs the union, has demanded his resignation.

“The mentor group was formed to stop politicisation of the university… We believe Sugata Babu, by becoming a candidate of the party, is paving the way for politicisation of the university. We demand his resignation,” Deborshi Chakrabarty, a spokesman for IC, told The Indian Express.

Bose explains why he has joined politics: “Mamata invited me and I agreed because I feel at this moment Indian politics is at a crossroads. This is no ordinary election, but a battle for the soul of India. The future of India will largely depend on the results of this poll.”

Mamata had handpicked Bose after she assumed office and made him the head of the mentor group. Since then, he has been seen in several party programmes in the state.