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Bengal assembly bypoll ends peacefully amid Kolkata mayor’s divorce drama

kolkata Updated: May 28, 2018 22:31 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
West Bengal,Maheshtala,Bypoll

Voters show their Election Commission cards as they queue to cast their vote at a polling station during Maheshtala ssembly by-election, at Maheshtala in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, on Monday. (PTI Photo)

More than 70% of the 2.48 lakh voters exercised their franchise on Monday for the bye-election to the Maheshtala assembly constituency in West Bengal, which was marked by the high-profile divorce proceedings of Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee and his wife, Ratna, the daughter of the Trinamool candidate, Dulal Das. All of them belong to Trinamool Congress.

Chatterjee, who is also the state environment minister and chief of Trinamool’s South 24-Parganas district unit, did not campaign for Das, who was nominated for the seat following the death of his wife, Kasturi Das, who represented the constituency, in February.

She had been a councillor for a decade before becoming an MLA in 2011. Her husband heads the Maheshtala civic body since 2010.

Party leaders who did not wish to be named said a section of Trinamool workers loyal to Chatterjee remained inactive during the campaign and even on the polling day.

“He didn’t even pay a visit after the death of his mother-in-law. How could he be expected to even participate in my campaign, forget leading it from the front?” said Das (73), who travelled across the constituency on polling day to inquire from voters if they faced any inconvenience.

Chatterjee and his wife, Ratna, are fighting a divorce suit. Both have publicly taken on the other quite frequently, causing the party a great deal of embarrassment over the past couple of months.

Das has stood by his daughter and is no longer on talking terms with his son-in-law. Ratna had been campaigning for her father.

With both her parents loyal to Mamata Banerjee since the formation of Trinamool Congress 20 years ago, Ratna is known to be close to the chief minister.

“He didn’t react after my mother died. He did not bother to sign our daughter’s visa application forms. We did not expect him to take part in the campaign, but he should have done it because he heads the party’s district unit,” said Ratna.

The BJP candidate, former CBI joint director Sujit Ghosh, hopes to reap the benefit from this family feud. “People are frustrated with family politics and will vote them out,” he said.

Das refuted Ghosh’s claim. “People will vote for Mamata Banerjee. No one else matters,” he said and alleged that BJP has spent a huge amount of money to purchase votes, a charge BJP denied.

On Thursday night, Ratna Chatterjee staged a dharna in front of the mayor’s residence in south Kolkata demanding his signature on their daughter’s visa application form.

The Mayor kept calling up senior police officers throughout the night but it was only after a 10-hour sit-in by his wife that the police came to take her away. She was arrested and released on bail almost immediately.

In Chatterjee’s absence, top Trinamool leaders such as urban development minister Firhad Hakim and sports and youth affairs minister Arup Biswas took up the campaign. Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Diamond Harbour MP, Abhishek Banerjee, became the key face of the campaign.

Trinamool leaders with knowledge of the leadership’s view on the issue said on condition of anonymity that Mamata Banerjee had warned Chatterjee several times that disputes in his personal life were hampering the responsibilities he was expected to carry out.

“The party has not taken any side. The party chief, however, has several times expressed her dissatisfaction over the way Sovan Chatterjee handled it,” said a senior Trinamool leader.

Chatterjee insisted that his preoccupation with other duties prevented him from taking part in the campaign.

“I have been unwell and need rest. Besides, there are administrative responsibilities. Hence, the party deputed other leaders. Events in my personal life will have no effect on the results to the election,” Chatterjee said.

Contrary to what Bengal witnessed during panchayat polls on May 14 when 15 people died in violence, only central forces were in charge of security at 283 polling booths in Maheshtala.

In 2016, the Congress-backed CPI (M) heavyweight Shamik Lahiri lost to Trinamool’s Kasturi Das by more than 12,000 votes. This time around, CPI(M)’s Prabhat Chowdhury was backed by Congress but rise in BJP’s popularity is expected to divide opposition votes.

First Published: May 28, 2018 22:31 IST