By Probal Basak
If Raigunj MP Deepa Dasmunsi is seen as the most prominent Congress leader in West Bengal today, it is not because she has been anointed so by the Congress high command. Rather, it is because Deepa is the only one in the party who has riled Mamata Banerjee so much that the Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister has lately been going out of her way to snub her.
For instance, in January this year, state Transport Minister Madan Mitra announced, “Under instructions from Mamata Banerjee, we are starting a campaign to expose the Congress-CPI(M) nexus. It will start from Raiganj, where there will be close monitoring of what is going on. Our state leaders will come here twice a month.” Notably, this was much before the Congress-Trinamool break-up.
From being merely the wife of veteran Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi to a power centre in the state Congress — Deepa’s rise in Bengal politics has been spectacular. Abdul Karim Chowdhury, a former Congress leader and close aide of Priya Ranjan, recalls how the latter used to introduce Deepa as a “housewife” who “would not join politics”. But, she did, becoming the MLA from Goalpokhar in North Dinajpur in 2006. Over the years, as Priya Ranjan became immersed in national politics (he was minister of information and broadcasting in the first UPA regime), Deepa took over the charge of running his stronghold in North Dinajpur district — a place she had visited for the first time only after her marriage in 1994. And after Priya Ranjan was paralysed in a stroke in 2008, Deepa took over, taking on, at times, some of his close aides such as Chowdhury. By 2009, when she contested the Lok Sabha elections from Raigunj, which used to be her husband’s constituency, the theatre actress from Kolkata was a seasoned politician. She struck an emotional chord with voters, getting her son to share the dias and appeal for support for his parents, and pitching herself as boudi (sister-in-law) to the people of Raigunj.
However, although Priya Ranjan shared good relations with Banerjee, boudi and didi never saw eye to eye. Banerjee saw Priya Ranjan’s retreat from politics as an opportunity for the Trinamool in North Dinajpur, the gateway to North Bengal, which had always been a Congress stronghold. But Deepa, who had by then made the district her own turf, came in her way. And so was born the most talked about rivalry in Bengal politics in recent times.
Deepa had opposed the alliance with the Trinamool before the 2011 assembly polls as it meant she would have to share some seats with that party in her own turf. However, the alliance came about and so she fielded four Congressmen as independent contestants from Chopra, Islampur, Raiganj and Itahar — all constituencies that had gone to Trinamool under the seat-sharing formula. Other Congress rebel leaders such as Adhir Chowdhury and Shankar Singh fielded candidates, too, against the Trinamool in their strongholds, but it was only Deepa who tasted success. Hamidul Rahman, one of her candidates, defeated Trinamool’s Sheikh Zalauddin at Chopra.
This was enough to alarm Banerjee, who has since made many efforts to teach her a lesson, from holding public meetings in North Dinajpur to proposing to shift the multi-speciality, AIIMS-like hospital from Raigunj to Kalyani in North 24 Paraganas. All Banerjee’s efforts have only had one effect — they have crowned Deepa her principal political rival. And ironically, this is paying her rich dividends by bringing her to the forefront in the state Congress, which now considers Trinamool a bigger enemy than the Left.