Clean image matters in politics, not age: Cong veteran Pradip Bhattacharya

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Congress candidate from North Kolkata Pradip Bhattacharya during his campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, in Kolkata, Sunday, April 7, 2024

Congress candidate from North Kolkata Pradip Bhattacharya during his campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, in Kolkata, Sunday, April 7, 2024

Kolkata: Pradip Bhattacharya, the 79-year-old Congress leader who is contesting the Lok Sabha polls again after two decades, asserted that age is not a factor in politics but a clean image is.

In an interview with PTI, Bhattacharya, a contestant in the Kolkata Uttar constituency, claimed that Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, though "quite unpredictable", will definitely be a factor in the upcoming elections".

The north Kolkata region, which witnessed a cultural and social movement in the 19th century is set for another renaissance, said Bhattacharya who has spent nearly 50 years in politics.

"It's true that I am quite an aged person. At this age, it is difficult to move and go to various places. But politically I am very clean, I have no black spot. I have never been to jail for any reason, never arrested by CBI or ED,” the former state Congress president said.

The Congress veteran did not mention by name his rival contestants – sitting MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay of the TMC and the BJP’s Tapas Roy.

Bandyopadhyay was arrested by CBI in 2017 in connection with a ponzi scam case, while the ED raided Roy's residence in January this year in a case linked to alleged irregularities in municipality recruitment. Roy, a five-time MLA, left TMC to join the saffron camp in March.

“I earned money as a college teacher, an MP or MLA. I believe the common people are desperately looking for a clean person to represent them," Bhattacharya said.

Referring to his age, he mentioned that Sudip Bandyopadhyay is also 75 years old.

"He (Bandyopadhyay) is not much younger to me. But yes, Tapas (Roy) is of course much younger. I believe the people of Kolkata Uttar will choose (their MP) politically. They have to think very clearly… We all know that TMC has a link with BJP," Bhattacharya claimed.

To a question, the two-term Rajya Sabha MP said that he has an extraordinary attraction for the northern part of Kolkata.

"In my Masters, I had Bengali when I had studied in detail the Bengal Renaissance, which started in north Kolkata. So, I have had a sort of nostalgia. My social contacts with different types of people are from this part, plus the nostalgia compelled me to take this challenge,“ Bhattacharya said, sitting in his south Kolkata flat.

The Congress leader who was elected to Lok Sabha once in 1996 said incidents of Sandeshkhali where allegations of atrocities against women were raised against local TMC leaders reminded him of 19th-century social reformer Rammohan Roy.

"Rammohan Roy fought for the rights of women, for widows to remarry, and their right to hold property. Sandeshkhali showed how women are tortured here. Time has come that another renaissance is necessary for Bengal and it will start from North Kolkata," he said.

When reminded that the seat is known as a TMC stronghold, Bhattacharya said, "People know TMC and BJP are linked. People are asking why Mamata (Banerjee) did not attend the Kejriwal meeting… Wherever I am going, people are telling me they will vote for me as I am a perfect gentleman." The Congress leader said it is high time that the brain drain from Bengal needs to be stopped.

"This is very unfortunate. We must do something to increase employment opportunities,” he said.

Bhattacharya lambasted the “dole system” started by the central and state governments and held it responsible for ruining the socio-structure of the country.

"Social engineering in Bengal has changed. Bengali Hindus and Muslims used to have the dedication to work for development of the state and its people. But now, the political parties, particularly those with the central and state government are doing the dole business which is ruining the country,” he said.

People are thinking they should vote for this government because it is giving them something, Bhattacharya said. “But what they are getting is temporary. After four to five years, this will also stop. What will happen after that? The solution is building more factories, business centres where the people will go and work," he said.

The Congressman said the CAA and the NRC would not be decisive factors in the elections as claimed by some quarters.

"When elections come, the CM of Bengal start saying this. I know the old story because I was the chairman of the (parliamentary) standing committee for home for three years. I can assure you that nobody will be thrown out of the country," he said.

Terming Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee "quite unpredictable", Bhattacharya said that she will definitely be a factor in the upcoming elections.

"After all she is the CM and has so many MPs. She'll be a factor, no doubt about it. But her mental makeup and attitude are so much so unpredictable that her party people do not believe her. I have not seen a single senior political party who told me that they trust her," he said.

He predicted that the allegations of corruption would heavily affect the TMC's performance in the ensuing elections.

"I have not seen that in my life the type of corruption that happened in Bengal. People will not ignore this thing and people know the reason and they will take proper revenge," he stated.

The former Rajya Sabha MP of the Congress was hopeful that if the polling is held "normally", the Congress as well as the opposition holds a good chance over the BJP.

"If the election is held in the normal way, I have no doubt that the Congress and the other opposition parties will win," Bhattacharya said.

About how much support he was getting from the Left, Bhattacharya said, "Our organisation is very weak in some pockets, but we have our people. The Congress voters and Left Front machinery will help." Kolkata Uttar constituency will go to polls on June 1.

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