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Identity test for ‘President’s son’

Riding pillion on a bike, Abhijit greets villagers in Sagardighi. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Jangipur, Oct. 7: On a sunny October afternoon, a group of young tribal women dressed in colourful saris dance to the beat of the madol to welcome a middle-aged man with folded hands and an awkward smile to their village in a remote corner of Murshidabad’s Sagardighi.

Slightly built, 52-year-old Abhijit Mukherjee is the centre of attraction at Komodda village, 250km from Calcutta. Abhijit, who left his general manager’s job with SAIL to join politics, is in the middle of a 10-hour road show.

His latest challenge is to win the Jangipur Lok Sabha seat his father Pranab Mukherjee vacated after becoming President. Last year, Abhijit won the Nalhati Assembly seat in Birbhum.

Sagardighi is one of the seven Assembly segments in the Jangipur constituency, the others being Suti, Jangipur, Raghunathganj, Lalgola, Nabagram and Khargram.

Since filing his nomination a few weeks ago, Congress candidate Abhijit has been touring the constituency extensively, trying to reach out to as many people as possible. The constituency has 10.87 lakh voters, nearly 70 per cent of whom are Muslims.

“The machinery in Murshidabad is flawless, it cannot fail. I have nothing to worry,” said Mukherjee, oozing confidence. He campaigns daily from 9am to 7pm.

The “machinery” is a reference to Congress MP and Murshidabad strongman Adhir Chowdhury. He along Behrampore MLA Manoj Chakraborty, who walked out of the Mamata Banerjee government months before his party withdrew support, have been trying to convince the voters that Abhijit would be as “good” an MP as his father.

The election poses another challenge for Abhijit — to emerge from the shadow of his father.

Boyesh toh onek holo (I am old enough). It’s time I made a name for myself. I’ve been regarded as my father’s son for long enough,” the Nalhati MLA said at a campaign stop in Gopaldighi.

Many would say that Abhijit’s job has become easy because the Trinamul Congress has not fielded a candidate against him.

If Abhijit wins, beating closest contender Muzaffar Hossain of the CPM, he will have to work hard on river erosion, a key problem in the region. He will also have to improve road connectivity and electrification through central schemes, things his party has been promising the people.

While Abhijit went from door to door in Sagardighi, the 61-year-old Hossain braved heavy rain to meet traders and shopkeepers on the markets of Raghunathganj.

“He is seeking votes in the name of his father. This is unethical because the President’s name should not be used in a political campaign,” Hossain said during one of his 12-hour campaigns that began at 9am. “There is no reason to believe that this will be a cakewalk for the President’s son.”

But if an octogenarian farmer in Raghunathganj is to be believed, Abhijit’s confidence is justified. “There are four voters in my family. All will be for rashtropotir byata (the President’s son). Maybe he can ask his father to do something for us,” the farmer said. “Abhijit will win.”