Not in fray, but on all minds

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  • Published 13.04.06

Keshpur, April 13: Who are you going to vote for? Not a shade of doubt crosses 65-year-old Noor Bibi’s face as it cracks into a toothless grin. “Of course I will vote for the CPM,” pat comes the reply.

Who is your candidate? Again, the smug smile. “Why? Don’t you know? I will vote for our minister Nandarani Dal,” declares Noor Bibi, sitting in the courtyard of her house at Gopinathbati village, oblivious of the fact that Dal is not the CPM candidate any more.

Like Noor Bibi, several villagers in West Midnapore’s Keshpur, 140 km from Calcutta, are waiting to vote for Dal , who won by a record margin of 1.08 lakh votes in 2001.

The leader, who won from Keshpur three times in a row since 1991 and was made mass literacy minister after the 2001 sweep, has been replaced by a new face ? Rameswar Dolui.

Those who know are wondering why the change ? and the question is often fired at Dolui on his campaign trail.

“When people ask me why Nandarani Dal is not the candidate, I tell them ‘don’t look for who is the candidate. Vote for the party symbol’,” Dolui says.

Dal, too, is tired of explaining her absence and has so far attended only six out of the 150 rallies held in Keshpur. “What can I tell the people? It is the party’s decision and I have to accept it,” she says.

The rare appearances have also given rise to rumours about her health, leaving local CPM leaders harried. “We are unable to bring her to all campaigns as we have to explain to people why she is not a candidate. When she is present in one or two meetings, those who thought she was unwell point at her and say ‘look, she is quite well’,” says a member of the party’s Keshpur zonal committee.

So, what makes Dal such a popular figure in Keshpur?

The villagers give a flurry of reasons.

One, she played an important role in protecting CPM sympathisers in 1998-2001, when Keshpur was caught in bloody clashes between the CPM and the Trinamul Congress over control of the area.

“My husband had fled home and Trinamul-backed goondas used to threaten me with dire consequences. It was Nandarani Dal who came to our rescue and arranged a police picket in our village within 24 hours,” says 30-year-old Sita Hembram.

During Dal’s tenure as MLA, a residential school was set up for 90 children orphaned in the turmoil.

The 15 years also saw eight of Keshpur’s 12 higher secondary schools getting affiliation. Another feather in her cap is the first college in Keshpur, which came up last year.