Calcutta boy answers call to Brexit battle

A Calcutta boy who learnt to swim in the waters of Paddapukur is out to stem the political tide in the UK snap election scheduled for June 8.

By Nayantara Mazumder
  • Published 3.05.17
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May 2: A Calcutta boy who learnt to swim in the waters of Paddapukur is out to stem the political tide in the UK snap election scheduled for June 8.

Rohit K. Dasgupta, a 29-year-old alumnus of St. James' School and Jadavpur University, is now a British citizen and the Labour Party's parliamentary candidate for East Hampshire in the battle against the Theresa May government.

Rohit had lived in Calcutta till he earned his bachelor's degree in comparative literature from Jadavpur University and moved to the UK for his post-graduation and PhD. Back in Calcutta to launch his new book, he recalled his years in his hometown and his initiation into British politics in an interview with Metro.

"I was born in Bhowanipore, lived in Tollygunge for a while and then moved to Mahajati Nagar, where my parents still live. I learnt how to swim in Paddapukur. I also look back on my years in university fondly. The political idealism and academic richness of that space taught me the value of engaging in the political sphere," Rohit said of those first stirrings that led him to enter British politics.

"After I moved to the UK, I joined the Labour Party at the end of 2009, just before the 2010 general elections," he recounted.

These were the elections that Labour lost. "Not only was the loss disappointing, it was even more shocking that the Liberal Democrats compromised on their ideology to join hands with the Tories," Rohit said.

Undeterred by the setback to Labour, Rohit continued to promote the party's agenda. "It was after the defeat of Labour's Ed Miliband in the 2015 elections that I decided to take on a full-time position of responsibility within the party," he said.

Like many people, Rohit was left shaken by Brexit.

"Brexit will be devastating," he said. "But I am also aware that Britons democratically voted for it. However, Theresa May's clarion call for Brexit at all cost must be opposed. These costs include higher education - people no longer want to come here to study - health and diversity. We must engage with the people in order to reverse the damage."

So was Brexit the trigger for his decision to apply for parliamentary candidature? "I was out campaigning vigorously before the Brexit referendum, and I was appalled at the xenophobia in the country. After the referendum, I was called a terrorist once. This was my first experience with hate in all my years in Britain, and I realised how deep it ran," he said.

For Rohit, the plunge into electoral politics came from this call within. "People's ideas needed to be challenged. Labour was looking for new, dedicated candidates to be voices of reason. I really thought that I could provide a progressive voice, and I am strongly committed to the party and its values. Labour gave the UK the National Health Service as well as economic prosperity. So I decided that I would apply for a seat in Hampshire county."

Rohit's ties with Hampshire go back to the time he lived in Southampton. East Hampshire has been a Tory stronghold; its present MP - and Rohit's opponent in the snap election - is the Conservative leader Damian Hinds. "The constituency is an interesting place," said Rohit. "There are great divides in terms of wealth and other important factors. This is why Labour should develop a strong voice there. I will be out canvassing every day for the next four weeks."

If he wins, will his agenda involve pushing for stronger ties with India? "Not just India, but specifically Bengal," said the Calcuttan in him. "There is such potential for good trade relations and also a cross-cultural exchange, given Bengal's richness in terms of the arts. So much has changed in Calcutta since I left, in 2006. The city is expanding. I hope the state's current dispensation upholds the values of equality that it stands for, as these are the values that Labour also believes in."

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