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No matter, try again: waiting for Godot with Beckett’s motto

Pramothes Mukherjee, who has won thrice from Behrampore but has spent less than five years in
Parliament. Picture by Amit Datta

Pramothes Mukherjee can be excused if he adopts “timing is everything” as his motto. Three times the RSP candidate had won from Behrampore, and each time the next election arrived in less than two years.

So, starting with his 1994 by-election victory through the 1996 and 1998 elections, the 68-year-old retired schoolteacher has spent less than five years in Parliament.

His Congress rival Adhir Chowdhury has won exactly the same number of times as him, defeating Mukherjee in September 1999, May 2004 and May 2009. Adhir’s Parliament stint so far: nearly 15 years.

Mukherjee isn’t one to mope about his bad luck, or the three successive defeats that followed. That’s another of his mottos. In Samuel Beckett’s words, it goes: “Ever tried, ever failed. No matter, try again, fail again, fail better.”

“I want to fight till I can break the myth that Behrampore is Adhir’s and the Congress’s bastion,” the Leftist says, sitting in a room stacked with books and magazines.

He concedes that Adhir’s victory margins have been rising in every election, and that the Congress candidate has also grown in stature, now heading his party’s state unit.

Some of Mukherjee’s well-wishers had gently advised him to retire from polls. Ally CPM’s local leaders believe he is too old to attract young voters. But he has not given up.

“I have lost three elections, so what? There’s always a next time,” says Mukherjee, sipping flavoured tea after a long day out in the sun.

The English and political science teacher’s first victory came in a by-election necessitated by the death of party MP Nani Bhattacharya. His 1996 and 1998 wins were short-lived because four successive governments —those of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral and Vajpayee again —failed to last their terms.

“Instead of serving the constituency for 15 years, I served it for a little over four-and-a-half years,” Mukherjee says. Normally, he wouldn’t have received his pension.

“I was one among 30-odd MPs who had served two terms but could not complete five years. After the Vajpayee government came to power decisively in 1999, it passed an act to ensure ad hoc pension for this set of MPs,” Mukherjee says.

He now receives Rs 20,000 — the minimum monthly pension for former MPs, who receive an additional Rs 1,500 per month for every year they have spent in Parliament beyond five years.

“I’m entitled to medical allowance too, which I have never claimed though I have availed myself of the free railway passes sometimes,” Mukherjee says, adding hurriedly that his prime concern is not his own entitlements but the deprivations Behrampore has suffered.

“When Pranab Mukherjee was Union finance minister, he sanctioned Rs 439 crore under a Kandi Master Plan to tackle the regular flooding. But because of the inefficiency of Adhir and Mamata Banerjee, the money could not be spent. I’m highlighting this,” Mukherjee says.

He claims that Behrampore, allotted to the RSP by the CPM, owes whatever development it has seen to the Left.

“The RSP’s Tridib Chowdhury won six times from here while Nani Bhattacharya won twice. Their contribution is ignored and Behrampore is called a Congress fief.”

Mukherjee is also targeting Adhir’s failure, as junior railway minister, to get several promised flyovers built in Behrampore. Marxist stalwarts such as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Brinda Karat and Surjya Kanta Mishra have held rallies in his favour.

But a CPM insider’s take on Mukherjee is: “He is a nice man and is widely respected, but we stand no chance unless we have a young, firebrand candidate.”