About Kumkum Chadha

Kumkum Chadha has written about all kinds of politicians: good, bad and the uncouth. At a time when there were not many women reporters in national dailies, it was tough for men to take women reporters seriously. Politicians rarely did. Kumkum joined Hindustan Times in 1976 and has written extensively on politics, crime and gender.

Rajya Sabha MP Dola Sen is part of the Bengali adda scene at the Central Hall of Parliament. Bengali adda, as she explained, is the coveted corner at the fag end of the Central Hall where Trinamool MPs are often closeted.

It is also a place for scribes to look out for, in case West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool head Mamata Banerjee comes calling. If and when she does, TMC MPs bend over backwards to catch Didi’s eye: with some ordering toast for her, others tea. Among politicians and non-politicians, Mamata is popularly known as Didi.

Dola is, of course, a new entrant given that she was elected to Rajya Sabha only a few months ago. On the face of it, she seems to be enjoying the stint, even though she will take time to understand the complexities of being an MP. While giving privileges it could take away the freedom of being bindaas. She can no longer slap a volunteer, or a traffic cop?, if he stops her car for allegedly violating traffic rules or afford an FIR being lodged against her for slapping a guard. Dola has denied all these charges, but I would not put this past her, given that she comes across as firebrand, aggressive and one who would not take things lying down, as it were.

I see Dola in the same mould as Mamata’s. Ready to take to the streets even before an opportunity comes up, Dola looks the kind to take the fight to its logical conclusion. Like Mamata, she would neither let go nor let others get the better of her. A trait if used positively can work wonders as it did in Mamata’s case but if misused can spell disaster.

Interestingly, Dola smiles more often than she frowns. I take it as a sign of her being at peace with herself: content that she has done what she set out to. Her journey, in any case, has been an eventful one.

Born to talented parents, both were artists, Dola studied mathematics. “I have a head for figures and stood first, first and first…always first,” she told me. Had it not been for the travails of a joint family, her mother would have been a renowned singer in her part of the world. “She was deprived of showcasing her talent and remained a mere housewife.” Yet around the time Dola completed her graduation, her mother did her masters in music.

Dola had, as a young girl, made up her mind not to remain a stereotype: carrying a tea tray for her in-laws or cooking for her husband. She wanted, to quote her, “A zaraa hat ke, of a different league.” So instead of growing up with dolls, Dola played cricket and football with boys. She also did not waste precious years waiting for the “right guy”. At 47, she is unmarried. “I am not particularly obsessed with the idea of getting married.” This has something to do with her training where precedence was given to being self sufficient instead of being dependent on the husband or family. “Instead of biye, biye,biye (marriage, marriage, marriage) it was studies, studies, studies and then job, job, job,” she told me smiling ear to ear.

Dola’s one dukho, or regret, in life remains her year of birth: 1967. She wanted to be born earlier given that she missed the freedom struggle or the movement of the landless and sharecroppers in West Bengal. Yet, for someone born under the CPM regime, Dola has had the satisfaction of seeing the Left rule end in her home state.

Dola sufficiently made up for being born late by actively participating in the Kanoria Jute workers movement in 1993. However, this upset her father. Dola walked out on him and lived with jute workers for well over five years. It was tough but she did not throw in the towel. From a life of comfort in Kolkata, she settled down to one of hardship. “There were no toilets and I used to go to the fields. It was a lifestyle change,” she told me, once again smiling ear to ear. This was the beginning of Dola’s full-fledged career as a trade unionist.

Her Didi-inspiration, as it were, started with the anti-land acquisition movements in Nandigram and Singur where Mamata Banerjee led from the front. Dola jumped into the fray and by 2006 she had joined the Trinamool Congress. “In 1993, I was a wholetimer trade unionist and by 2006 I was more a whole-timer,” she said: trade unionist turned political worker.

Dola fought her first election in 2014 for Lok Sabha but got a drubbing. Her second chance came a year later when Mamata put her up for Rajya Sabha.

Following her preoccupation as an MP, Dola’s determination of remaining single has become stronger. “Marriage gives space to men but not to women. If I marry, I will be reduced to a part-time politician. I do not want to compromise because politics for me is a mission and not a profession. I cannot let marriage spoil this.” Given that Mamata is Dola’s role model, this seems to fit in.

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Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav’s grandfather was taken around the village on an elephant after he cleared his Class 8 examination. It was, in those days, an achievement.

Politically inclined, Jai Prakash’s grandfather Shukrdas Yadav was the village chief. He fought against untouchability and took up the
cause of his community which was not allowed to wear the sacred thread or mix with the upper castes till then. Jai Prakash’s early memories are of being a battered lot.

With time things have changed but not as much he would like them to.

A product of Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan’s total revolution movement, Yadav is a four-term MLA, a state minister and later part of the Union cabinet from where he had to resign after non-bailable arrest warrants were issued against him for allegedly releasing his brother illegally from police custody.

Mention that and he speaks about how he has been to prison several times during the JP movement along with Lalu Prasad Yadav, now the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief.

Even though Jai Prakash’s parents were active politicians, he prefers to talk about his grandfather more. One reason being that he was brought up by him and the other being that his grandfather achieved much more that his parents.

His grandfather was revered because he had dedicated his life for his community pledging to free it from the tyranny of the upper castes. His parents, even though they carried forward what Shukrdas had started, were more political than reformers. That is why when Jai Prakash says that politics is in his blood, it fits in.

Like his grandfather, he is inclined towards the Congress even though he belongs to the RJD. Unlike him, he did not get even a car ride after he completed his law degree or researched on Kabir, the great saint and mystic poet. “Woh zamana aur tha (It was a different era),” he told me.

It certainly was. Otherwise, there could not be a situation when a jailed husband could engineer his wife’s elevation as the chief minister: read Lalu and Rabri Devi respectively. The decision, Jai Prakash, feels does not need any justification. His take: Rabri is Lalu’s natural heir and a safe bet.

Jai Prakash, I marked, has the capacity to steer an uncomfortable conversation to his advantage. He can jump from his controversial resignation to his family’s contribution to the society or from Lalu-Rabri Devi’s misrule to how he has the proverbial nine lives. Destiny, he is convinced, has always stepped in to give him an extended lease of life: once when he nearly drowned as the water current swept him away and second when he travelled on a train’s footboard for over an hour. “Twice I hit a boulder but destiny saved me.” He had boarded a speeding train presuming that he would climb in through an open door but he kept hanging and no one would let him in. “I prayed for my life, like never before,” Jai Prakash said swearing never to go near water or jump on a moving train.

The first time he went abroad, he felt he had arrived. It was not a dream come true given that his dreamsthen were quite ordinary and foreign jaunts were not a part. But, once he actually boarded an aircraft it was “swarg par pav rakhne jaisa” or like setting foot on heaven to him.

More than the excitement of flying, and thankfully he had no fear, it was the joy of seeing clouds from close quarters. “Woh badal jinme bachpan mein pariyan rahti thi (the clouds that were home to fairies when I was a kid).”

Jai Prakash does not look the fairy-type. He is out and out a politician who would perhaps bend rules keeping with the RJD style of politics. There is, as in the case with most from his clan, a struggle to be accepted as equals in a society that discriminates. There was, therefore, no place for fairy tales or happy dreams. Life was all about earning the next meal. For Jai Prakash it may not have been so bad but even as a child he was familiar with the harsh realities of life.

And the third mishap was when he was air bound and destiny favoured him once again. The pilot of the plane had lost control and was forced to crash land. “It was a close shave, but I had faith and got yet another lease of life,” he told me.

At 61, he still has a long way to go.
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