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Race to power on same jeep

Suri, April 13: They are not only fighting for the same seat, but are sharing the same seat too.

Trinamul Birbhum candidate Satabdi Roy and her BJP rival Joy Banerjee have something in common — a Willys jeep — which they are using for campaign rallies.

The jeep, used by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi during a campaign rally in 1987, has been taking Satabdi and Joy for road shows around Birbhum for the past few weeks.

Satabdi may have instructed her party workers not to utter the word “Joy” while campaigning, but she cannot help but share the lone open vehicle in the area with her rival.

Sources said Satabdi had used the jeep for around 10 road shows and Joy for eight.

Bought 25 years ago for Rs 35,000 in an auction at the Panagarh army base, the Willys jeep is used every year by the sub-divisional officer and the sub-divisional police officer during Republic Day celebrations in Rampurhat.

Owner Suprakash Das, a Rampurhat resident who runs a stone-crushing unit, says he does not charge money from those using the vehicle. All one needs to do is arrange for a driver and the fuel.

Das fondly remembers Rajiv riding the jeep during a campaign rally in 1987 for Ashis Banerjee, the Congress candidate for the Rampurhat Assembly seat. Ashis is now the local Trinamul MLA.

In the 2011 Assembly polls, the jeep was used by President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit for around two months.

This year, the BJP was the first to book the jeep for road shows in Birbhum. Trinamul leaders then took owner Das’s permission to use the vehicle only when it is idle.

“The BJP has requested me to allow it to use the jeep for election purpose till April 28. Trinamul has taken permission to use the jeep when the BJP is not doing so,” Das said.

Asked if other parties were vying for the jeep too, owner Das said he had turned down requests from Congress leaders.

“The CPM is yet to approach me. Congress leaders had come to me, but I could not give them the jeep as it is booked almost every day. I had bought the jeep because I liked it. I don’t use it every day. It is a collector’s item after all. I am giving it to political parties only after they assure me that they will take care of the vehicle,” said Das, who refused to divulge his political affiliation.

Asked if she knew she was sharing the jeep with her BJP rival, Satabdi said: “I don’t have any such information. I don’t know if any other candidate has asked for the vehicle.”

Joy said he did not have a problem sharing the jeep with “old friend” Satabdi. “If I am not using the jeep, other candidates can take it. You are telling me that an old friend of mine is using the jeep. I am okay with it.”

Poll season or not, the jeep is quite a hit in Rampurhat.

“The jeep is an asset to Birbhum. There is no other open vehicle here that can be used for road shows. Even Rajiv Gandhi had used it in 1987,” said Biswajit Chowdhury, a local Trinamul leader.

Mithun in charge

Mithun Chakraborty was today made the Trinamul in-charge of Darjeeling by Mamata Banerjee. His role was not specified.

At a rally in Darjeeling, the actor and Rajya Sabha MP sang a line of his song I am a Disco Dancer and shook a leg.