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Family rivalries take shape of political opposition in Bengal rural polls

Major political parties — Trinamool Congress, BJP and Left Front — have fielded members of the same family either to capitalise on their popularity in the respective areas or to cash in on family rivalry.

kolkata Updated: May 13, 2018 15:16 IST
Press Trust of India, Kolkata
West Bengal panchayat polls,Bengal rural polls,Trinamool Congress
West Bengal BJP workers affected in pre-panchayat poll violence protest outside the residence of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi.(PTI/FilePhoto)

The West Bengal panchayat elections have not only kicked off a political battle but also infighting within families at many places where relatives are pitted against each other in an intense contest.

The three-tier polls, spread across more than 58,000 seats scheduled for Monday, have several instances where a father is pitted against his son, a mother is being challenged by her daughter, a son-in-law is taking on his father-in-law and a brother is slugging it out in the poll battlefield against his sister.

Prominent parties, including the Trinamool Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and Left Front, have obliged competing relatives by fielding them on their symbol to capitalise on the family popularity in the respective areas.

For instance, in Alipurduar district, retired school teacher Bhognarayan Das is contesting on a TMC ticket against his son Amal, who is a BJP candidate. Das, 68, had asked his son to refrain from contesting the polls as it might cause animosity within the family, but he refused to withdraw.

“I had told my father that politics is all about political belief and ideology. And our political battle won’t cause any harm to our relations,” Amal said.

In North 24 Parganas district’s Jagulia gram panchayat, two daughters-in-law of the same family are contesting against each other. While Rima Das is in the field on a TMC ticket, her elder sister-in-law Bulbul Das is contesting as an Independent candidate.

However, the two are of the opinion that politics did not create a rift in their family as “politics has nothing to do with personal relationships”.

In Nadia’s Taldaha-Majhdia gram panchayat, three members of the same family are pitted against each other but poll rivalry has not soured their bonding. Bablu Roy, the sitting TMC candidate, is fighting against his sister-in-law Aduri Roy, who is a BJP candidate, while his uncle Laxman Roy is fighting as an Independent with support from the Left Front.

“Whoever wins the election will be from our family and will work for the development of our village and the two defeated candidates will support the winner,” Bablu told PTI.

The three, who are part of a 10-member strong joint family, make it a point to have their lunch and dinner with other family members after a day’s campaign, just as it used to be earlier.

There are also examples of family rivalry where relatives are taking on each other in the polls to settle score. Partha Pratim Das, a TMC zilla parishad candidate from East Midnapore district, is miffed that his wife Lipika contesting on a BJP ticket in a nearby seat.

Lipika, on the other hand, said she wanted to teach her husband a lesson as her pleas to shun politics for several years have fallen on deaf ears. “We are living separately for the past few years,” Das said.

In Alipurduar district, two sisters-in-law — Tushi Roy Sarkar and Arpita Roy Sarkar — are fighting from Chaporerpar gram panchayat seats with Tushi as a TMC candidate and Arpita an Independent nominee.

According to their father-in-law Dhananjay Roy Sarkar, a TMC loyalist, Arpita is contesting as an Independent as she was denied a ticket despite being an old timer.

According to political leaders of various parties, rural polls in West Bengal, since its beginning in 1978, has witnessed a peculiar trend where family rivalry results in kin contesting against each other either on a party ticket or as Independents.

“Although there are cases of bonhomie between family members fighting against each other, in most cases family rivalry comes into politics where there is a competition to outdo each other in electoral battle,” CPI(M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty told PTI.

Senior TMC leader Nirmal Ghosh also agreed with his views but added there were instances where political rivalry also divided a family. “When you are in a political battle, it hardly matters what is your relation with your opponent. What matters is victory and this leads to the political fight entering into a family,” Ghosh told PTI.

State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said as the elections were held across thousands of seats, in most cases political parties had no other choice but to give tickets to members of the same family.

BJP Mahila Morcha activists take out a rally against ‘Trinamool terror’. (HT/Samir Jana)

According to West Bengal State Election Commission sources, of the 48,650 seats in 3,358 gram panchayats, 16,814 were uncontested and of the 9,217 seats in 341 panchayat samitis, 3,059 were uncontested. In the 20 zilla parishads, 203 of the 825 seats were uncontested.

SEC sources said Monday’s elections will be held in 621 zilla parishads and 6,157 panchayat samitis, besides 31,827 gram panchayats.

The polls will be the last major elections in the state before the next year’s Lok Sabha polls. Political parties are viewing Monday’s event as a warm-up match ahead of the 2019 general elections.

Polling will begin at 7 am on Monday and end at 5 pm. Counting will take place on May 17.

The opposition had accused the ruling TMC of letting loose a reign of terror during the nomination process.

The filing of nominations, which was held from April 2-9 and then again on an extended date on April 23, was marked by violence and clashes between the ruling TMC and opposition parties that led to several deaths.

Although top leaders of all parties campaigned for the polls, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee refrained from it. She appealed to the people to vote in favour of the development ushered in by her government.

Around 1,500 security personnel from Assam, Odisha, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh are in the state to reinforce security arrangements for the polls.

They will aid around 46,000 personnel of the state police and 12,000 of the Kolkata Police, while the state government would use close to 2,000 security personnel from the departments of excise, prison and forests in manning the booths, an SEC official said.

Security forces on Sunday conducted route marches in various parts of the state as part of security arrangements.

As the death toll in the pre-panchayat poll violence in Bengal touched 16 till Saturday, a proliferation of country-made semi-automatic pistols and crude bombs recovered from a district triggered concerns ahead of elections.

On Saturday afternoon, police seized a large quantity of ammunition at Salboni in West Midnapore while villagers at Bhangar in North 24 Parganas district discovered hundreds of crude bombs inside several pits dug behind the home of local TMC heavyweight Arabul Islam.

The pistols were manufactured in clandestine workshops in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Bengal and sold for anything between Rs 15,000 and Rs 25,000.

First Published: May 13, 2018 14:46 IST