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How to earn it (the ticket)

Calcutta, Jan. 2: Dilip Sonkar, one of the three persons whose taped comments were published in The Telegraph today as part of an investigation into the facilitators of illegal construction in Calcutta, was seated outside a party office in Burrabazar on Wednesday.

The following are excerpts from a fresh conversation with Sonkar, 38, who said no one from the Trinamul Congress had contacted him and dropped names of several senior leaders with whom he claimed proximity. Sonkar, egged on by a companion who felt the newspaper report had made him “a headline figure”, appeared to be harbouring hopes for a ticket to contest elections, too.

The conversation is not being reproduced verbatim as it was not recorded. The reporter wrote the main points down as soon as he left the place.

Reporter: I have come from The Telegraph newspaper. Can we talk?

Sonkar: What? The Telegraph? Aap logo ne to hume kahinka nahi chhora (you have ruined me). What do you want?

Reporter: Can we sit and discuss?

Second person: Dada, there is nothing to talk about. Whatever you have published is a bunch of lies.

Another person: No, no. Let’s talk. Dada, you sit over here.

Reporter: Sonkarji, what do you have to say about the report?

Sonkar: Please put that cellphone aside. I don’t want you to film me again just like your other reporter did.

Reporter: I am keeping it inside the trouser pocket.

Sonkar: Please don’t cheat and film me. If you want to take a picture, ask my permission.

Reporter: I am switching off the cellphone. Once we finish the conversation, a photographer will take your picture. Are you fine with that?

Sonkar: OK.

Sonkar: I never knew he was a reporter. He had lied to me. He told me he was a businessman and I casually talked with him and tried to help him as I do with anyone else who comes to my office. The man had said that he had some problems with a few tenants who were not vacating his property. I only tried to help him and said that I would take him to the MLA who is also a very good man and since he is known to me, he could have helped the person.

Reporter: But why did you ask for the money?

Sonkar: I never did. By God’s grace, I earn enough to sustain my family. Your reporter has put those words in my mouth. I never asked for any money.

Reporter: But as you have seen in the paper, the reporter has your statements recorded.

Sonkar: I was in the audio cassette business previously. I know how one can tamper with these recordings.

Sonkar: Dada, I have a very good reputation in the locality. Everyone loves me. I have never felt so cheated in my entire political career as I feel today. Now I would not be able to trust a person in my life.

Reporter: Did your leader (a former MLA) call you till now (afternoon) ?

Sonkar: No. Dada hasn’t called me yet. But see, he and all other leaders know that I am innocent. Had I committed a crime, I would have fled the spot. But here I am seated in front of you. That proves I am innocent and was framed by your newspaper.

Reporter: Since your party has not told you anything why are you so upset?

Sonkar: My wife and my elder daughter are asking me questions. My friends and relatives have also been calling me since morning. I feel really ashamed to stand in front of them, although I have done nothing.

Reporter: You must be knowing a lot of leaders?

Sonkar (grinning): Thoda bahot. (He names the former Trinamul MLA, a minister of state, an MP and a senior party leader.)

Reporter: You even know (the senior leader)?

Sonkar (grinning even more): I am one of the oldest party workers. (The leader) knows me very well and smiles and pats me whenever we meet.

Reporter: So why haven’t you contested an election yet?

Second person: You have turned him into a headline figure. Now he will surely get his ticket.

Sonkar (smiles at the person and gestures to him to stop): No, no, there is nothing like that. I don’t know how the party will react reading today’s article. But it is true that till now no one has said anything to me.

(Sonkar asks an aide to bring tea for all)

Sonkar: I do a lot of social work in the area. Often my photographs come out in newspapers. Show him some of our works.

(The second person sitting on his right brings out a smartphone and flashes an image showing Sonkar leading a candlelight march to protest the Delhi gang rape.)

Second person: Write good things about Dada. He even organises a big Bhairo (Shiv) puja in this locality and he does not ask chanda from even a single shopowner. Everyone loves him in this locality. We are all stunned by what your paper has written today.

Reporter: Sonkarji, do you still have contact with your younger brother Raju, who was convicted by a Calcutta court for his involvement in a murder case? (A relative of a tea-stall owner in Burrabazar was killed when Gopal Tiwari, a hitman allegedly employed by Haldiram co-owner Prabhu Agarwal, shot him in 2005. Raju, along with two others, was convicted in the case for his association with Tiwari.)

Sonkar: No, I have no contact with him. Ever since the case, I have snapped all contacts with him. I live here with my wife and three children.

Reporter: How do you earn a living?

Sonkar: I have a construction business. That is the thing I had told your reporter about. I asked him to meet me at my other office when he was asking me details about how he could develop a property. But I believe he misunderstood me.

Reporter: OK. So, you run that construction business alone?

Sonkar: Actually that is not my company. My bhai runs it. I just introduce people to him and he pays me a commission.

Reporter: But you said you don’t have any contact with your younger brother?

Sonkar (fumbles): I mean it is a family business. I have no contact with Raju but I talk to the manager and other employees.

Reporter: So, what are you planning to do now? Are you planning to contest the next elections?

Sonkar (smiles): It’s for the party to decide. I work wholeheartedly for the party and the people. Some party workers are jealous since my name has come out in the paper. If the party thinks I am credible, I am ready to contest.

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