By Sirshendu Panth
Krishnanagar (West Bengal), April 27 (IANS) Having saved goals aplenty during a sparkling soccer career, former India custodian Kalyan Chaubey has adopted the “offence is the best defence” approach in his maiden electoral contest, but says the new turf is “more competitive and cruel” with opponents always waiting to “hit below the belt”.
In the fray as a BJP candidate from West Bengal’s Krishnanagar Lok Sabha constituency, the 42-year-old Chaubey says he is slogging it out for 17-18 hours daily, and travelling 150-200 kilometers to woo the voters in the primarily rural constituency that goes to the hustings on April 29.
“This maidan (turf) is more competitive, cruel, and tough. In football there are rules and regulations, then there is a fixed timing (for every match). But these are not there in politics.
“Here your rivals are always waiting to hit below the belt,” Chaubey, who donned the national colours from 1994-2006 in various age-group competitions as also for the senior Indian team, told IANS in an interview.
Vying for glory in a 11-horse race, Chaubey’s principal opponents are Trinamool’s combative and sharp former investment banker Mahua Moitra, Shantanu Jha of the CPI-M and Congress’ Intaj Ali Shah in a seat that had in 1999 elected a BJP candidate, Satybarata Mukherjee, more famous locally by his nickname Julu Babu.
Krishnanagar is a seat that the BJP, which has made West Bengal virtually the ground zero of its 2019 poll strategy, has its sights firmly on. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah have campaigned for Chaubey.
With the party prefering Chaubey – half his age – over him, 86 year old Julu Babu, who also contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, initially made no effort to hide his displeasure. But things got sorted out after the affable Chaubey called on him soon after being nominated.
“He has blessed me. He has covered all seven assembly segments of the constitueency seeking votes for me,” says Chaubey, who joined the BJP in 2015.
A man of many parts, Chaubey, since his retirement from the game, has delved into widely diverse fields.
He has been a soccer administrator, spearheaded four football academies, coordinated with Indian and foreign government agencies for talent development, walked the ramp in th Lakme Fashion Show, translated a book on the Shirdi Sai Baba’s life, written a Bengali novel “Aporinoto” (Immature), and even started a fully mechanised laundry brand.
“God has given me a life, I accept whatever direction life takes,” says the deeply religious Chaubey, sitting in an open jeep – his campaign vehicle – blaring patriotic songs and “Jai Shree Ram”.
With Trinamool’s actor-turned-politician Tapas Paul winning the last two elections, but missing out on a party ticket this time following controversies over his hate speech and his arrest in the Rose Valley Ponzi scam case, Chaubey says BJP has nothing to be defensive about.
“I know attack is the best defence, but in Krishnanagar there is nothing that we need to defend, as we last won 20 years back. We can only attack. It is the Trinamool that is fighting anti-incumbency, after occupying the MP seat for 10 long years.”
Chaubey is raising issues like thrice-a-day power cuts, poor drinking water and drainage and the mosquito menace, besides the “lack of basic infrastructure and facilities in the vast of majority of rural areas, like health, education and housing”.
“These may seem small issues, but these are the actual peoples’ issues, which I am highlighting,” he says.
Chaubey is pained by the scenes of people lacking even the basic requirements of life, despite the Trinamool having a stranglehold on all levels of the administration from the state to the gram panchayat level.
He bitterly complains about the “vindictive state government machinery”, alleging voters were already facing threats from the Trianmool-backed goons not to venture out on polling day.
“They are being told they would be taught a lesson if they dare to attend my meetings or go to the booths. The administration watches everything silently.”
Chaubey says even police Assistant SubInspectors and Constables were going to the villages and threatening people.
“False arms cases and narcotics cases are being slapped. They also know that the cases are weak and baseless. Their sole aim is to keep these innocent people in jail for at least 10-15 days,” he says.
Drawing attention to last year’s Panchayat polls, he says people were ‘forcibly prevented” from casting their votes. “There were 33-34 murders. Not only the BJP, all opposition parties were victims of the ruling party’s atrocities.”
“These things are matters of deep concern. We have a sporting mind. We want a qualitative fight based on policies. I can only hope such anomalies will not be repeated,” the youthful man says, adding in his interactions with the people he is trying to remove the all pervasive fear” from the minds of the people.
Chaubey now starts his day at 7 a.m. meeting people, and remains on the road till midnight.
“For those of us who have taken part in the gruelling Calcutta Football League, that hosted matches in gruelling conditions with the mercury touching 40 degree Celsius, the heat or humidity or other factors don’t pose any problem, says the man adjudged India’s Goalkeeper of the Year in 1997-98 and 2001-02.
Chaubey considers Trinamool’s Moitra as his main opponent, but regrets that she does not play a “fair game”.
“I have always spoken about her very decently. We all want Indian women to progress. Having said that, I would also say that those who know her personally, would vouch that she and fair game do not go together,” he says.
In 2004, Krishnanagar had elected a sportsperson – Asian Games double gold winner Jyotirmoyee Sikdar of the CPI-M. Whether there is an encore or not will become clear once the votes are counted on May 23.
(Sirshendu Panth can be reached at [email protected])