Shabina Akhtar| Caravan Daily
KOLKATA — It’s been five months since Dr SQR Ilyas, president of Welfare Party of India (WPI), has been diligently engaging in door to door campaign in Jangipur, a constituency of West Bengal which shall be going to poll on Tuesday. Jangipur or Jahangirpur, a town set up by Mughal emperor Jahangir has sent MPs from CPM and Congress to the Parliament, but despite all the ‘bidi town’ of India, situated along the banks of river Bhagirathi has seen little to no progress, claimed Dr Ilyas, who has been regularly visiting Jangipur since 2012.
Dr Ilyas engages in a candid telephonic interaction with Caravan Daily, to talk about his choice of constituency, agenda of WPI and more. Following are excerpts:
What made you choose Jangipur?
This constituency used to first vote for CPM and now it is Congress. Pranab Mukherjee was elected as MP twice from Jangipur and so has been the case of his son Avijeet Mukherjee. The common man from this area had invested a great deal of trust in the father-son duo only to be let down. If you will check the performance of Avijeet, you will be surprised that he has returned around 2.5 crores of the 25 crore MP fund that he was given by the centre. My question is why return the money when there is so much work to be done. Didn’t he have plans to take care of the issues plaguing the constituency?
People of this area need real change. Our party is not contesting election from here with the simple agenda of winning a seat but to bring in democratic reforms which is very much needed here. The deplorable condition of this constituency made us choose this seat.
In these many years, I have not seen much of a developmental work taking place in Jangipur. Come, visit it and you will also ask, why has there been no development here. You walk through this constituency and you meet elderlies, women, and children. Men are conspicuously absent in this town. Why?
With no industries, the people from this town and adjoining district make up a huge percentage of migrant workers. While the women and children make up for the under-paid task force for the bidi factories, which you will find in plenty in this town. With no proper facilities provided to this unskilled workforce, these people are exposed to ailments like asthma and tuberculosis. They don’t even have enough money to have a proper four-square meal.
What do you think of Mamata Banerjee and Muslim appeasement in Bengal?
Come, visit Jangipur and you will realise that this is just a myth. I feel Mamata Banerjee does a lot of propaganda of doing development work for the Muslims but does little in reality. In Bengal, I think that there is some kind of an unwritten understanding between the BJP and TMC.
You are from Delhi so how are you managing the show in Jangipur?
I have been regularly visiting Jangipur since the first time WPI fielded its candidate in 2012. So, am not new to this town. Also, I am stationed here for the past five months, doing road shows, meeting people, who often seek a promise from me to bring the ‘promised development’ if elected to power.
Is Umar Khalid campaigning for you here?
Yes. He has campaigned for us twice, here in Jangipur.
What do you have to say to people raising questions about your candidature by referring to you as the “father of tukde-tukde gang leader Umar Khalid”?
What do I tell to these people other than the fact that the allegations levelled at Umar are yet to be proved before the honourable court. The fact that it took them three years to file the charge sheet says it all.
You are from Nagpur – the birthplace of RSS. Has your place of origin helped you in understanding their ideology?
RSS ideology or functioning is very different in Maharashtra. In Nagpur, this aggressive Hindu nationalism is not practiced even by the RSS. Being from this town, I have had friends who were associated with the RSS but I had never faced the kind of hostility which is so evident today.
But also, I would like to state here that I have been in Delhi for 35 years, and it continues to be my home.
Many are of the opinion that you will be dividing the Muslim vote in Jangipur. How true is this?
Well, to be honest, WPI is here to win the election. The people in Jangipur want to witness the change that every party has promised but has never delivered. We are contesting this election to bring about a change and democratic reforms which the people of Jangipur should have been given long before. We are not diverting any votes. And to be honest, BJP is not going to win here, despite fielding a Muslim candidate.
What’s WPI’s agenda for Jangipur?
We have prepared a separate manifesto for Jangipur alone, where we have shared the details of how we are going to empower the people here. Of the many things that we have listed in the manifesto, the most crucial ones are – better roads, communication facility, safe drinking water, industries and better implementation of the government plans.