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Will Mamata indulge Sushmita like Rahul did?

By Aditi Phadnis
September 06, 2021 11:59 IST
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In the Congress, Sushmita Dev enjoyed the indulgence of the Gandhi family.
She has been true to them and has been graceful in her gratitude to the party that gave her unparalleled political opportunities.
Aditi Phadnis reports.

IMAGE: Sushmita Dev with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

Alliance politics is tricky business.

How do you keep the interests of your own party, which is almost inevitably the one to be most hurt by an alliance partner, intact? The national parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress alike, are facing the challenge in varying degrees.

Alliances help to prevent division of votes.

But they can also limit -- to the point of stagnation and, eventually, death -- the growth and development of your own party.

Assam Congress leader Sushmita Dev's recent decision to quit the Congress and join the Trinamool Congress illustrates the dilemma.

The writing has been on the wall for months.

During the Assam assembly election earlier this year, differences surfaced between Ms Dev and then Assam Congress unit president Ripun Bora on seat distribution for the Barak Valley region.

The Congress had concluded an alliance with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).

According to Ms Dev, of the 15 seats in the Barak Valley, Mr Bora wanted to give eight seats to the Congress, with the AIUDF contesting from the rest.

'If six to seven seats are given away in the Barak Valley, why should grassroots level workers remain in the Congress in tough times? I raised this question on behalf of each and every party worker in the Barak Valley,' she had said in March.

Later, the Congress contested 11 seats in the region, winning four.

In the Silchar Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress won two of the seven assembly segments.

The BJP bagged four and the AIUDF one.

In the rest of the Barak Valley, the AIUDF did relatively well.

But overall, this meant only one thing -- that the Congress was locked in the alliance in perpetuity.

So Ms Dev would have to contend with the responsibility of not just making the Congress win but ensuring the success of the AIUDF in her backyard -- forever.

Obviously this rankled. Ms Dev contested her first election to the Assam assembly in 2011.

Her family has been in public service for years: Her grandfather was a freedom fighter and minister in the Assam government; her mother an MLA in the Assam assembly; and her father, Santosh Mohan Dev, a seven-term Lok Sabha MP, Cabinet minister, and Congress stalwart.

She claimed a family political legacy -- but not until she had already made a career in law, including a law degree from the UK, bowing to her father's insistence that politics is not a profession and that she must find a way of earning a living before plunging into the maelstrom of competing interests.

In 2014, she contested the Lok Sabha election and in the midst of a BJP wave, claimed back the Silchar Lok Sabha seat from BJP stalwart Kabindra Purkayastha, the same man who had defeated her father in the constituency in 2009.

She was a stormy petrel in the Lok Sabha, never turning away from jousting, travelling all over the country to speak at meetings, and even taking on party responsibilities -- she was the All India Mahila Congress chief from 2017 till she left.

Because of her training as a lawyer, Ms Dev was able to comment on issues more meaningfully than others.

Speaking on the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill in 2016, which was aimed at 'regulating' the employment of pregnant women by giving them 26 weeks of paid leave and other facilities, she made the point that under the guise of protecting the rights of women, the Bill actually took them away by making them unemployable, as employers considered the paid leave a future liability.

She wanted the government to contribute to the benefits, not leave the onus only on the employer.

The Act only extends to the birth of two children.

'I am the fourth child in my family. I have three sisters older than me. So, if my mother was working when I was born, I would feel that my government is discriminating against me. The benefit of having my mother at home when my two elder sisters are brought up ... why should you deprive of a third or a fourth child of that benefit?' she asked.

Ms Dev and her family are Bengali Hindus in Assam.

In that sense, they are a minority among the majority, and are not classified as 'original inhabitants' of Assam.

Ms Dev feels the National Register of Citizens is on the brink of creating two classes of citizens in India: Bengalis and Assamese. She considers herself both.

Little wonder then, that she opted to leave the Congress, and, rather than become a plaything of the AIUDF, joined the Trinamool Congress, which is emerging as a major political force in eastern India to fight a vigorous, spirited fight.

In the Congress, Ms Dev enjoyed the indulgence of the Gandhi family.

She has been true to them and has been graceful in her gratitude to the party that gave her unparalleled political opportunities.

It will be all rather different in the Trinamool Congress -- especially in a post-Mamata Banerjee era.

But no matter what party she joins, she is a rising star of the east.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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Aditi Phadnis
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