West Bengal panchayat elections: How rural polls have brought intense family battles to the fore

The West Bengal panchayat polls have not only kicked off a political battle but also infighting within families at many places where relatives are pitted against each other in an intense contest. The three-tier polls, spread across over 58,000 seats scheduled for tomorrow, have several instances where a father is pitted against his son, a mother is being challenged by her daughter, a son-in-law is taking on his father-in-law and a brother is slugging it out in the poll battlefield against his sister. Prominent parties including the TMC, the BJP and the Left have obliged competing relatives by fielding them on their symbol to capitalise on the family popularity in the respective areas. For instance, in Alipurduar district, a retired school teacher Bhognarayan Das is contesting on a TMC ticket against his son Amal, who is a BJP candidate. Das, 68, had asked his son to refrain from contesting the polls as it might cause animosity within the family, but he refused to withdraw. I had told my father that politics is all about political belief and ideology. And our political battle wont cause any harm to our relations, Amal said. In North 24 parganas districts Jagulia gram panchayat, two daughters-in-law of the same family are contesting each other. While Rima Das is in the field on a TMC ticket, her elder sister-in-law Bulbul Das is contesting as an Independent candidate. However, the two are of the opinion that politics did not create a rift in their family as politics has nothing to do with personal relationships. In Nadias Taldaha-Majhdia gram panchayat, three members of the same family are pitted against each other but poll rivalry has not soured their bonding. Bablu Roy, the sitting TMC candidate, is fighting against his sister-in-law Aduri Roy, who is a BJP candidate, while his uncle Laxman Roy is fighting as an Independent with support from the Left Front. Whoever wins the poll will be from our family and will work for the development of our village and the two defeated will support him or her, Bablu told PTI. The three, who are part of a 10-member strong joint family, make it a point to have their lunch and dinner with other family members after a days campaign, just as it used to be earlier. There are also examples of family rivalry where relatives are taking on each other in the polls to settle score. Partha Pratim Das, a TMC Zilla Parishad candidate from East Midnapore district, is miffed that his wife Lipika contesting on a BJP ticket in a nearby seat. Lipika, on the other hand, said she wanted to teach her husband a lesson as her pleas to shun politics for several years have fallen on deaf ears. We are living separately for the past few years, Das said. In Alipurduar district, two sisters-in-law – Tushi Roy Sarkar and Aripta Roy Sarkar – are fighting from Chaporerpar gram panchayat seats with Tushi as a TMC candidate and Arpita as Independent nominee. According to their father-in-law Dhananjay Roy Sarkar, a TMC loyalist in Alipurduar district, Arpita is contesting as an Independent as she was denied a ticket despite being an old timer. According to political leaders of various parties, rural polls in West Bengal, since its beginning in 1978, has witnessed a peculiar trend where family rivalry results in kin contesting against each other either on a party ticket or as Independents. Although there are cases of bonhomie between family members fighting against each other, in most cases family rivalry comes into politics where there is a competition to outdo each other in electoral battle, CPI(M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty told PTI. Senior TMC leader Nirmal Ghosh also agreed with his views but added there were instances where political rivalry also divided a family. When you are in a political battle, it hardly matters what is your relation with your opponent. What matters is victory and this leads to the political fight entering into a family, Ghosh told PTI. State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said as the elections were held across thousands of seats, in most cases political parties had no other choice but to give tickets to members of the same family. According to West Bengal State Election Commission sources, of the 48,650 seats in 3,358 gram panchayats, 16,814 were uncontested and of the 9,217 seats in 341 panchayat samitis, 3,059 were uncontested. In the 20 zilla parishads, 203 of the 825 seats were uncontested. They said tomorrows elections will be held in 621 zilla parishads and 6,157 panchayat samitis, besides 31,827 gram panchayats.