The Kharagpur assembly constituency has become synonymous with veteran Congress leader and nine-time MLA Gyan Singh Sohan Pal. From way back in 1982, Sohan Pal, affectionately known as Chacha to his supporters and followers, won this seat six times in a row.
His victorious association with this seat goes back even earlier as he contested in 1969, 1971 and 1972 and won all three times. His only defeat came in the year 1977, when Sohan Pal was pitted against Sudhir Das Sharma of Janata Dal and Jatindra Mitra of the CPI(M). Das Sharma won the seat that year after a three-way battle. Going back even earlier, Narayan Choubey of the CPI had won the Kharagpur assembly seat in 1957, 1962 and 1967.
So, purely on the evidence of the political history of this urban constituency, Sohan Pal, even at the age of 86, continues to be an icon in Kharagpur town.
“Over the years, I have stood by the people here and tried my best to develop the area. Now, the people would give their verdict,” said the octogenarian leader.
Though traditionally an anti-Left constituency, Chacha is in no mood to spare even a toehold for his opponents in a
seat he has made his own. He has been campaigning in every nook and cranny of the town, braving age and heat. Even on Tuesday, an elaborate procession bathed in Congress colours moved around town, with the octogenarian in his trademark pagri waving at the crowd from an open-top jeep.
“He is like this. The whole town is like his family with whom he stays round the year,” said Debashis Das, a Trinamool leader who contested against Sohan Pal in the last assembly polls.
This time, however, the CPI(M) district leadership claims to be confident of wresting the seat from Chacha. The refrain here is that a win for Anil Das, the CPI(M) nominee, would be a near miracle at a time when the state is in the grip of a gathering storm for change.
Das, a businessman, remains optimistic about his chances. “Congress was in power in the Kharagpur Municipality for a long time but has done nothing to develop
the town. Trinamool has since been in charge of the civic body and has virtually paralysed the institution. I have respect for Chacha, but in the interest of development people would vote for me,” said the Left nominee.
Kharagpur, the town Jawaharlal Nehru once called mini India, is basically a railway town because of the divisional headquarters of South Eastern Railway. Many of the voters are railway employees or sustain their livelihood from the railways indirectly. A sizeable section of the voters here believe that the veteran Congress MLA is in line for a new record.
Here, Chacha and not the Congress is the factor. Congress does not win this seat, Chacha does.
After his victory in 1972, Sohan Pal was inducted into the cabinet of the then chief minister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, as the transport minister. Locals here have fond recollections of his stint in the state cabinet and are rooting for his 10th victory from this seat.