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Talk about people's issues, not the Hindu-Muslim discourse: Left's Ballygunge bypoll candidate Saira Shah Halim
Bengal Politics
Saira Shah Halim in door-to-door campaign in Ballygunge

Talk about people's issues, not the Hindu-Muslim discourse: Left's Ballygunge bypoll candidate Saira Shah Halim

| @indiablooms | 26 Mar 2022, 01:12 pm

Countering the charge that it feeds only an ageing party organisation, the Left, much like the 2021 assembly elections, has fielded Saira Shah Halim as a young CPI-M candidate from Ballygunge seat in south Kolkata. Halim also happens to be the niece of veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah and daughter-in-law of late politician Hashim Abdul Halim. In the middle of her campaigning amid the soaring temperature in Kolkata, Saira, who fought against the CAA-NRC and very recently the hijab ban, exclusively speaks to India Blooms correspondent Souvik Ghosh ahead of the Apr 12 bypoll to the seat, which fell vacant by the demise of Mamata Banerjee's senior colleague Subrata Mukherjee

You have plunged into active politics from a completely different field? How are you enjoying it and what are the responses you are getting?

I have been actively involved in civil society and political movements with the causes that I am passionate about. I was a very active voice against the CAA-NRC as well as the hijab ban. Now I have made the transition into the political fray a few days ago. So far, it's been a good experience and the response in my constituency is also quite overwhelming. I was quite apprehensive about the response. But people are positive about my candidature.

What are the issues you are going to raise? Also the state politics is now charged up with the recent mass killings in Birbhum.

West Bengal has seen a spate of violence in the last couple of elections. The Birbhum incident, which is very tragic, should not have happened in any civilised state or society. Also, the last few elections were not free and fair as well. There were a lot of areas where people were threatened not to vote besides reporting incidents of violence. Some people were killed as well in this state of affairs.

We want to usher in a change where people get to see clean candidates, who are hardworking, honest and work and not engage in communalism because everybody (rival parties) has become so polarised that they talk only about Hindu-Muslim issue and not about policies. This is tragic. We will have to talk about people's issues and not babble in Hindu-Muslim debate.

This Ballygunge constituency was held by a seasoned politician, late Subrata Mukherjee, and also the seat is a stronghold of the ruling TMC. Going into the polls, what are the positives you want to highlight?

We are witnessing a whole lot of opportunism. Leaders who were spewing vitriol against the ones in the opponent party have jumped the ship. This is unfortunate. How will people trust them as they may again go back to their original party from where they came from? So people's mandate gets lost. It should be a clean state of affairs.

Fighting against the opponents should be based on issues and not on gender, religion. There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved in Ballygunge. Water drainage, sewage, electricity issues are left to be addressed by the local councillors in some slum areas. People were complaining to me on these issues that need to be addressed.

The Left has been against the turncoat politics in the state. Is turncoat Babul Supriyo becoming an advantage for you?

That is an added point. One political party should field a candidate with a lot of responsibility. What people are fearing is that the candidate may revert back to the original party from where they came from. Then the people's mandate and confidence get lost. At the end of the day, the most disenfranchised people find no one to get their concerns voiced if the winning candidates keep swapping the political parties.

How do you see BJP in this contest?

BJP did get a certain number of votes (earlier). But I don't think it is a factor because West Bengal has clearly rejected their politics and it was quite clear in the last year's elections (assembly elections 2021) as well.

How do you see the structural change in your party right now?

The renewal is very important. They have fielded some good candidates who have a connection with the masses . So I think every constituency has a different appeal, so we need to make the candidates look aspirational and appealing. The candidates must have a connection with the youth because the young generation do not want to see candidates with whom they have an age gap. The CPI-M has picked up the restructural process and the coming elections will show the result.

CPI-M had fielded a huge number of young candidates in the 2021 state polls too but that yielded nothing. Why do you think this time will be different?

This is because now people will see the positive changes of the initiatives that have been taken. There is a better connection with people and that will yield better results. People have been seeing a turnaround, so the response on the ground has been good.

The Left has been against nepotism. Do you fear the same charge may counter you back considering your lineage?

Ah, nepotism is when someone is getting favoured. Here nobody in my family has pushed me but the party has unanimously chosen me as the candidate seeing my work. The family connection will be there but one has to prove his/her own mettle. So for the last so many years, I have been a part of many significant movements that were against fascism, bank privatisation, NRC-CAA, hijab etc. I have been a part of many civil society movements. But yes electorally, this is my first foray. So I would not say this is nepotism. I think every deserving person should be given the opportunity.

(Image Credit: Facebook/Saira Shah Halim)

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