|BJP candidate Geeta Rai, who defeated mayor Mamata Jaiswal, with son Ujjwal and daughter Disha. Picture by Anup Bhattacharya
Howrah, Nov. 25: When Geeta’s father would gather the family around the fireplace for tea every evening in the army quarters at Shillong, the little girl would prefer to stay inside and read her storybooks.
Three decades later, the shy homemaker in Howrah’s GT Road has scripted a surprise election victory. Geeta Rai, 32 years old and a mother of two, today stood bathed in saffron gulal (colour). She has defeated Mamata Jaiswal, the CPM’s face in Howrah and its mayor since 2008.
Of the 49 seats whose results were announced today — there will be a repoll in one — Trinamul has won 41, snatching the Howrah Municipal Corporation from the Left that ruled it for nearly three decades.
The Left got two seats, a 31-ward nosedive compared to its 2008 tally. The Congress got four wards and the BJP two.
Mamata Jaiswal, the vanquished mayor on November 22, the day of the elections
Geeta, the BJP candidate from ward 13, won by a margin of over 1,500 votes, which surprised many in her party because few expected her to win.
She has lived in Howrah since 2001 after marrying Umesh Rai, a local BJP leader and schoolteacher. Umesh, who had fought the 2011 Assembly election unsuccessfully as the BJP candidate from north Howrah, had proposed her name.
“I want to convert my area into a model ward,” Geeta said, struggling to hold her breath as she got updates on the poll results in her small living room. “It’s a beginning for me. I hope to get everyone’s support,” she said.
Geeta said she would follow her role model, Sushma Swaraj, and reach out to more people in Howrah to strengthen the party’s presence.
The homemaker said she got drawn to politics because of her husband’s love for the BJP. “Passion and energy” are needed to be in politics, she said.
Has she seen it in anyone?
Yes, she said. “I like the passion and the energy that Narendra Modi brings,” Geeta said.
According to her, the rise of the Gujarat chief minister as the BJP’s prime ministerial face may be a reason for her surprise victory in what used to be a Left citadel.
The BJP’s win of two seats in Howrah this time is one better than its 2008 tally of a single ward.
Anita Singh retained her seat today from ward no 17, which has a heavy concentration of traders and businessmen, who are traditional supporters of the party.
BJP state president Rahul Sinha said the party’s victory in two wards and second place in three other wards was a pointer to the BJP’s growing organisational clout. “We could have won in three other wards had Trinamul not resorted to terror and intimidation,” Sinha said.
“The victory has also proved that if we had not withdrawn our candidate in the June bypoll to the Howrah Lok Sabha seat, it would have been difficult for the Trinamul candidate to sail through,” he said.
Geeta’s win has “embarassed” Trinamul.
A Trinamul secretary in Howrah said: “Although we have won the civic board, we wanted the mayor to be defeated by our nominee. This has surely embarrassed us a lot.”
The beleaguered CPM appeared more embarrassed. “We were not certain about retaining the civic board. But we couldn’t imagine such a poor show in Howrah,” a CPM state committee member said.
“The performance of the Left-run civic board became a factor this time and Mamata Jaiswal became the face of non-performance,” said homemaker Geetanjali.
Many voters in the locality alleged that Jaiswal had failed miserably on delivering basic amenities such as drinking water. Proper drainage remained a problem despite assurances that things would improve.
“Howrah became a great garbage bin. All that the mayor was interested in was issuing licences for building highrises across Howrah,” said a senior citizen in Watkin’s Lane who did not want to be named.
Geeta said she was aware of the problems and would try her best to make a difference.