There’s a reason for that old adage, “Don’t discuss politics or religion at the dinner table”. But then, there’s a counter-cliche: “Communication is the key to a successful relationship.” On Monday, Sujata Mondal Khan, wife of BJP MP Saumitra Khan, joined the Trinamool Congress. She has been a long-time member of the BJP and her chagrin at her now-former party stems from the fact that “corrupt leaders from other parties” were being given positions in the BJP at the expense of party loyalists. Saumitra Khan broke down at a press conference held shortly after his wife’s departure and said he would send her a “divorce notice”.
Defections and counter-defections are hardly a new phenomenon in Indian politics. But in families, particularly in ideologically and politically polarised Bengal, switching parties is clearly more than just switching jobs. Remember, this is a time when family feuds erupt in WhatsApp groups over everything from the CAA to farmer protests. That impulse may well be compounded in families where both partners are politicians. Perhaps, politics should stop at the water’s edge, and beyond the threshold, more mundane domesticity should rule the roost. But that’s easier said than done — like business and Bollywood, a political career is often a family concern. Children take over political parties from their parents, spouses become stand-in chief ministers. In fact, when Saumitra was banned by a court from entering Bankura during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Sujata became the chief campaigner for her husband.
In an ideal world, where the political lines would not be so sharply drawn, a spouse switching parties wouldn’t be as upsetting as it seems to be. Political couples could ask each other, “how was your day” without worrying about defections, optics, elections and the burdens of ideology. After all, when investment banker couples switch jobs, there are no press conferences expressing anguish.