The Telegraph
Monday , May 12 , 2014
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Harvard to Jadavpur: ivory tower meets street vocabulary

Her hair is streaked a kind of bronze; her friends’ are streaked in purple and red. All of them tap high heels on cement floor in their strides to the barstools inside the pub, their powdered faces challenging chubby bodies, their un-shapely thighs packed into clingy leggings. All of them ask for mojitos — the Latin American cocktail — in a girls’ afternoon out at the Mexican-themed pub in South City Mall on Prince Anwar Shah Road.

A little later, women in Nod cover their heads with dupattas and anchals, leave the streets and go indoors as the azaan sounds and the loudspeakers are switched off at a political rally.

Nod is a village in Shankarpur No. 2 panchayat of Baruipur (West) with a pond by the side of a recently metalled road. It is a mostly Muslim roadside village with coconut, palm and mango trees and a breeze that blows during the evening namaz at the mosque and ripples the water tenderly like feathered-fingers over tired eyes.

Zara, the Mexican-themed restaurant, is in a hip corner of town. It is nicely cooled for relief from Calcutta’s hot and humid summer, a really nice place to chill out in.

Zara and Nod, the pub in town and the wayside hamlet, make the bipolar constituency of Jadavpur.

The bipolarity also makes it maverick. In 1984, it threw up a certain Mamata Banerjee. In 2009, the musician Kabir Suman. In 2011, the Jadavpur Assembly seat threw out chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, dramatically defeated by his former chief secretary Manish Gupta.

The bipolarity also means that the vocabulary of politics in Jadavpur ranges from the street to the ivory tower. Ordinarily, Harvard professors would reconsider rolling up their sleeves and stepping into its political cesspool.

“Obviously, I have had to explain complex matters in rather simple terms,” says Sugata Bose, the Trinamul candidate who holds the Gardiner Chair for Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard.

“You will be surprised that people find meaning in them. I cannot use phrases like ‘religious majoritarianism’, for instance, but ‘Hindu-Muslim oikyo’ (unity) is understood by all.”

In his campaign, Sugata says, he has refrained from personal attacks, slurs or abuse. In his clipped, polished Bangla, he says he comes from a political family and that hitting the streets for an election campaign is not new to him. He has campaigned for his mother Krishna Bose, three-time MP from Jadavpur, in the past.

“I have not changed my personality or my style,” he says in English, at the break for namaz in the village of Nod. “I think I have conducted a very unusual campaign.”

When the meeting in Nod reassembles, Sugata takes the microphone to speak about Tagore, his association with his great-uncle Subhas Chandra Bose and his ideal of Hindu-Muslim peace. There is no harangue.

That was left to the speakers before him.

“What kind of rigging is Sujan Chakraborty (the CPM candidate) talking about? Do we have to hear about rigging from the rigging master?” shouts Gautam Kumar Das, the Baruipur block youth Trinamul chief, one of the chief organisers for Sugata’s campaign in this belt.

“Even Ananda Mohan Biswas, former CPM MLA from neighbouring Bishnupur, has said Sujan Chakraborty is deeply involved with Saradha.”

The Saradha deposit-mobilisation scam is tarring the Mamata government, which is trying to deflect blame.

Saradha has claimed a big toll in the Baruipur segment of the Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency. Faizul Amal, 32, a doctor who is at Sugata’s meeting, says: “They gave cheques to us that we could not cash.”

Sugata does not need to dirty his hands in the rough and tumble of the street discourse. Tagoreana, family legacy, Cambridge and Harvard have shaped a worldview for him that he articulates in Jadavpur, he says.

The Bengali he speaks is deliberate, each word clearly enunciated. The English is perfect. He swings from the one to the other with equal facility. For his party workers, it’s almost as if he has condescended to visit Nod. But Sugata explains that he travelled through rural Bengal for his early work in agrarian economics.

Onar achar-byabohar bhalo (his conduct is gracious),” says Narayan Chandra Das, a Trinamul worker on a motorcycle who is guiding Sugata’s car through the narrow and winding streets of Baruipur (West), the largely rural Assembly segment.

Surprisingly for Narayan, he found out early in the campaign about Sugata that “onar Bangla bolte oshubidhe hoyna (he doesn’t find it difficult to speak Bengali)”.

Aar campaign ta toh team’er kaaj (Besides, the campaign is about teamwork),” he says.

Eta byektigoto lodai noy (This isn’t a personal fight),” Sugata’s chief rival, Sujan, says at a rally in Garia after a procession from the 8B bus stand opposite Jadavpur University.

“This (the election here) is not between Sujan and Sugata. So there is no use invoking Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s name. Netaji belongs to not one family but to the entire country. He is part of our Leftist heritage. His Forward Bloc is in the Left Front,” says Sujan, trying to chip away at the aura around Sugata.

The electioneering in Jadavpur has re-ignited a squabble in Sugata’s family that is really a contest for Netaji’s legacy. Another great-nephew of the founder of the Indian National Army, Chandra Kumar Bose, who is a Forward Bloc leader campaigning with Sujan, alleges that Sugata and his mother have been siphoning off funds through the Netaji Research Bureau. Sugata is the director of the centre.

For the Left, the family tussle is political fodder. Even for Sujan, who was the Jadavpur MP from 2004 to 2009 and is a local man with deep connections in the constituency that go back to his days as an activist in Jadavpur University.

At the meeting in Garia, Sujan is deeply aware that the anti-incumbency factor that swept the Left out in 2009 and 2011 is yet to be buried.

“We understand that people wanted change and they got the change they wanted. We understand that people wanted us to know we had made mistakes. We have rectified them, we have re-organised ourselves, not yet in full measure but substantially,” says Sujan at the Garia rally with Left Front chairman Biman Bose seated next to him.

Five years since the Left lost its majority in the Lok Sabha elections, it is still on the defensive in one of its erstwhile strongholds. At the start of a roadshow that precedes the rally, Biman alleges that Trinamul is in cahoots with the BJP.

Goto kaal Dilli-te ekta hotel-e meeting hoyechhe, understanding hoy gechhe (Yesterday there was a meeting in a Delhi where the two sides reached an understanding),” he says.

The suspicion of a post-poll Trinamul-BJP alliance has heightened since Narendra Modi’s interview to a television channel this week. In Jadavpur, the partly urban, partly rural constituency with an estimated 25 per cent Muslims in an electorate of more than 15 lakh, that is the CPM’s latest effort to swing the vote.

At Nod, Sugata is aware of the campaign. “I am not here to do conventional politics,” he says. “It is very clear that the Congress is crashing to a catastrophic defeat. This is a historic election because India as we know it is facing a real threat. We have to renegotiate our federal equations.”

Sugata is on leave from Harvard for the elections.

“When I get elected, I shall take public service leave — others have done it in Harvard, you know, to join the Obama administration. It is an office of loss for me, of course. But it runs in the family. My grandfather (Sarat Bose) gave up a successful career in law to join politics,” he says.

Painter Samir Aich, the Congress candidate, will be an also-ran in Jadavpur.

• Jadavpur votes on May 12