Goutam Kumar Das, 38, is a rare politician whose career as a professional painter gave him a leg up in the world of politics.
The head of the gram panchayat in Murshidabad's Hariharpara gram panchayat, he shot into the limelight in Trinamul for his murals for party candidate Niamat Sheikh over a decade ago.
A professional painter of signboards, Das spends the entire day painting murals, signboards, sceneries, handwritten advertisements, among others, based on orders.
He commits to his administrative duties as the head of Hariharpara gram panchayat towards the evening.
“I have harboured this passion for painting since my student life. I am a graduate but could not land a decent job. After getting married in 2011, I had to take up painting as a profession to support my family,” said Das, who is now the father of two sons.
He was elected head of the gram panchayat in August after Trinamul emerged victorious in Hariharpara in the panchayat polls.
Das gives credit to his political murals for changing the course of his life.
Once an active member of a Left students' outfit, Das drew political murals for the Left Front in his youth.
However, his political commitments changed in 2011 after he drew murals for Trinamul candidate Niamat Sheikh. With time, he gained momentum within the party, with his recent elevation as the head of the panchayat being his most significant milestone so far in his life.
However, he takes his painting seriously as well.
Asked about his recent works, Das said, “For my latest work, I have painted portraits of mythical men, of the historic Lal Qila (Red Fort) and the Hazarduari Palace at the Balirghat Gramin High School with the help of two students. The entire cost has amounted to perhaps a little less than Rs 1 lakh. I could save up to Rs 40,000 for myself from this particular work. This is how I earn my living.”
“I have heard that panchayat heads will be given a monthly allowance of Rs 5,000 though I have not received any of it so far. I cannot depend on the allowance to provide for my family, since it’s a five-year tenure. I will have to continue painting to support my family,” he added.
Party workers in Hariharpara praised Das’s art of striking a balance between his twin careers of art and politics.
Masum Shahnowaz, a government official in Hariharpara, said: "Das is equally dedicated towards his art and his administrative responsibilities. When needed, he even stays back late at his (panchayat) office to finish any pending administrative work.”
Niamat Sheikh, now the Trinamul MLA from Hariharpara, said: “We are proud of Das for his dedication towards both politics and art. On top of everything, a truthful and decent man in the otherwise corrupt political scenario in India is something rare. We expect more human beings like Goutam Kumar Das to join politics to bring about positive changes in society.”
Sheikh's words ring loud at a time when several Trinamul leaders are in jail on charges of corruption.
"When even our ministers have been arrested on corruption charges, Das is a whiff of fresh air in the present political scenario," said a senior Trinamul leader in Murshidabad on condition of anonymity.