It’ll be a battle of finance ministers in Khardah, with Trinamool incumbent Dr Amit Mitra taking on Dr Asim Dagupta, his predecessor in the Left Front government. In starched white dhoti-kurta and an equally white floppy hat, Dr Mitra braved an angry sun at the head of Trinamool supporters through the small town of Kharada. This was towards the end of his campaign.
“This is the best attire for the elections, dhoti-kurta. It is too hot to wear anything else,” he said. “I have been wearing dhoti kurta since my college days in Presidency, Saugata Roy and I together. There were a lot of boys from poorer backgrounds who would be hostile towards us, they expected us to be more western. So I started wearing dhoti-kurta.”
His disillusion with the communists started early. “Once our college was shut for eight months because of some agitation by Maoists. There were many of them who were living on the campus too,” he said. “I lost a year because of the agitation. I was to go to Delhi School of Economics in 1967 but ended up going in 1968 instead.”
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The procession was led by traditional Bengali drum players. A line of battery-run rickshaws, called totos, followed the procession through narrow roads. “The toto association actually came a while ago to thank me. After the roads were redone, one toto owner told me that because the condition of the roads had become so good, he was actually saving Rs 2,500 a year in maintenance cost alone,” Dr Mitra said.
Dr Mitra said his government has got 14 main good roads built in Kharada and surrounding villages. In Bilkinda II, a panvhayat nearby, it has got 173 roads of varying size built. Trinamool supporters in the constituency said Dr Mitra has been able to bring his dealings with the corporate world to Khardah. A health-cum-diagnostic centre has been set up in Khardah on money from CSR of corporate bodies and charitable organisations like Rotary Club. “Blood tests here are done at Rs 15, which is really a nominal amount. People from surrounding villages now come here,’’said a voter. “This centre has been hugely successful,” Mitra said. “I haven’t spent a rupee of government money. The volume of patients has been so large it has made a profit of Rs 1 lakh, which I will now have invested in a dialysis centre right next to it.”
Development is his election plank. When asked about the Narada sting, he said at least in Kharada, corruption is not an issue. “What does a voter care about? What touches his or her life. The roads that help him commute, the piped water in his home, the desiltation of a clogged drain. So far not a single voter has asked me about Narada. It is the urban intellectual sitting in his drawing room in Kolkata who discusses this. Poor people are not bothered about Narada.”
Dr Mitra rattled off figures: increased industrial growth, increased GDP, reduced borrowing, Rs 1,000 crore spent on Kanyashree, and Rs 6,000 spent on Sabuj Saathi. “We borrowed Rs 1.13 lakh crore when we came to power. Out of this Rs 94,000 crore was spent repaying a debt incurred by the Left government. What did that leave us with?” he said.
“When my father (Congress veteran Gouri Das Mitra) used to fight elections he used to sell off our houses. In one election he sold off the front of our Bhabanipur home. It was a 27-room house. I have been using my own savings to fight this election,” he said.
Dr Mitra said he has never bandied his relation to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (his grandfather was Netaji’s brother) in any election.
“Many even in the state don’t know I’m related to him,” he added.