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The will to win, age no bar

Trinamul leader Sisir Adhikari

He has completed over 51 years in public life representing people in the gram panchayat, municipality, Assembly and Parliament. But, at 73, polls still excite this veteran of Bengal politics as he has a point to prove.

Ahead of the May 12 polls, Sisir Adhikari, the Trinamul candidate from Contai, unfailingly steps out for campaigning, spends time with party functionaries in the evening to take feedback from different parts of the constituency and draws up strategy on how to improve upon the victory margin.

“Whoever be the opponent, whatever be his or her strength, I do not take anyone lightly…. I contest the polls to win,” said Adhikari, sitting in the first-floor room of Contai Municipality, which he had steered for 33 years as its chairman.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Adhikari had won by over 1.29 lakh votes. The cumulative margin came down to around 82,000 in the 2011 Assembly elections, but the war horse is sure to sail through without any hiccups even this time.

The buzz in Contai is that the he is fighting for his pride as a section in the party was against him contesting the polls because of age.

Adhikari slips into silence when asked such questions but sources in Trinamul Bhavan said that the man with the barrel chest has vowed to give a crushing reply to those who talked about his age.

Contai CPM candidate Tapas Sinha

“Sisir-da has tremendous mental strength to tackle any adverse condition. He makes it a point to prove his detractors wrong,” said a senior Trinamul leader.

Text messages and calls from aides often interrupt Adhikari during his conversation with party leaders. But he picks up the thread from where he had left off.

“Politics is an addiction and this is the only thing that I have done with passion…. I have four sons, but I can’t remember whether I had ever taken them on my lap while they were growing up,” added Adhikari, fiddling with the three cellphones lying in front of him.

After reading a text message that just landed in his inbox, he looked up to discuss the next day’s plan with the aides. He was informed that he would be holding two meetings in the late afternoon and he nodded in agreement before taking a fistful of puffed rice laid in front of him on a newspaper.

“Given his age and the extreme weather conditions, we are not allowing him to address more than two meetings,” said Dibyendu, Adhikari’s third son, a Trinamul MLA from Contai.

Other than his eldest son Sirshendu, who looks after the family business, Adhikari’s two other sons — Subhendu, the sitting MP from Tamluk, and Soumendu, the chairman of the Contai Municipality — are also public representatives.

That’s why, expressions like “rajtantra (dynasty)”, “rajkumar (prince)”, “Adhikari samrajjyo (Adhikari kingdom)” are used in abundance when the CPM candidate from Contai, Tapas Sinha, addresses any rally.

As opposed to Adhikari’s two, Tapas — who proudly mentions his three-time stint as World Federation of Democratic Youth co-ordinator — is holding multiple meetings through the day and the number touched 42 a day recently.

“My campaign is simple… I am asking people ‘what have you got after voting for the members of the Adhikari family? Has there been any change in your life’?” said Tapas, a resident of the neighbouring West Midnapore district.

Ask Adhikari about the Opposition refrain of “dynastic politics” — a handle his leader Mamata Banerjee uses to attack the Congress — and he seems a bit uncomfortable.

Shob thik ache, (Everything is fine),” he said, before talking about his achievements as an MP.

From securing a generous Rs 654-crore grant for flood control in the area to convincing the National Highways Authorities of India to connect Nandakumar in East Midnapore with Chandaneshwar in Odisha — he rolls out his list of achievements.

But conversations in and around Contai with common people yield a clearer idea about Adhikari’s USP.

“Once the elections are over, Sisir-babu’s doors are open for everyone…. He helps everyone irrespective of their political affiliations and that’s why people vote for him,” said a young man, standing near the Contai bus stand.

• Contai votes on May 12