In August this year Arild Engelsen Ruud wrote on Fokus India that Pranab Mukherjee was a man without a political home turn and lacking any mass following. This was surely a correct assessment. Mukherjee has spent most of his years in parliament in the Rajya Sabha, to which the members are elected indirectly by the respective state assemblies, and not by the electorate. Until Mukherjee found a safe haven in Jangipur some ten years ago he was therefore known as somewhat of a rootless wanderer without a constituency to call his own. Paradoxically, his elevation to what is largely a ceremonial position may have finally earned him a ‘constituency of his own’ now that he needs it the least. That was at least what a pre-election report in Indian Express seemed to suggest.
According to Indian Express, the man who totally dominated the bypoll in Jangipur was the President. His ‘larger-than-life shadow’ sometimes hung so close over Mukherjee Jr. that even he had to acknowledge that the contest was really between ‘the President and the rest’. The leader of Abhijit’s campaign, the Congress MP from Baharampur, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, formulated this very unambiguously when he explained that the Congress’ candidate was ‘actually Pranab-da, even though Abhijit is the official candidate’. Similarly, The Hindu had this to say about Abhijit’s campaign:
For the people of Jangipur the only introduction Abhijit Mukherjee needs is that he is ‘Pranab Babu’s son’. As he made his way from door to door on Monday and the curtains came down on campaigning, his father Pranab Mukherjee may not have been here in person but certainly appeared to be the pivot of the campaign.
This, naturally, upset the CPI(M), whose candidate complained that the Congress were ‘asking for votes in Pranab Mukherjee’s name’. The TMC did not field a candidate. The party’s District President MD Ali explained that ‘this was Pranab babu’s seat. And the candidate now is his son so as a mark of respect to the President, we didn’t put up any candidate’. On the other hand, the TMC did not openly endorse Abhijit Mukherjee either. The general mutual hostility between the two parties thus made itself felt in Jangipur too.
The turnout for the poll was disappointing at around 60 percent, down from nearly 85 percent in 2009. Jangipur is a poor area, and a large number of locals migrate to elsewhere in the state or country in search of work. Many of them could not (or would not) make the return journey to vote this time. The constituency’s poor developmental track record also ostensibly led voters in 26 booths to boycott the election because of ‘development issues’ such as poor roads and no electricity. Those who did vote eventually endorsed Abhijit Mukherjee, but only just: when the counting was over and the dust had settled Mukherjee Jr. had won by a margin of only 2,500 votes, down from the handsome margin of nearly 1.3 lakh votes accomplished by Mukherjee Sr. three years ago. With a decimated support base and plenty of ‘development challenges’ to tackle, the relatively inexperienced Abhijit Mukherjee may thus have his work cut out for him in his constituency. Nonetheless, we may well just have witnessed the establishment of a new political dynasty, now fully equipped with its own hereditary constituency. Abhijit Mukherjee’s grandfather, incidentally, was Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee, a member of the West Bengal Legislative Council between 1952 and 1964 as a representative of the Congress. But the extent to which the Mukherjees will be able to make Jangipur ‘their’ hereditary constituency for good will probably depend on the good grace of local Congress strongman Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, without whom even Pranab Mukherjee would have found it difficult to win in his day…