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Lok Sabha 2024: The Dreamer of Dinhata

"The BJP's main aim this time is to psychologically finish the Congress party," a BJP spokesperson told me.

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(This is the second in a series of insightful reports from the ground, titled The Race From India to Bharat. The author travels all across India as 960 million voters get ready to celebrate the largest festival of democracy in the world: the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. What do ordinary Indians think and feel about the past, present, and future of India? Are they convinced that the old fault lines are healing?)

(Read part one here.)

A slightly steep flight of stairs raises some apprehensions. The author has had hip replacement surgery and is wary of climbing steep steps. But curiosity trumps caution and the steep steps are navigated with fair ease. The “office” of Deeptiman Sengupta looks surreal. Freshly washed clothes including sparkling white undergarments are hanging out to dry on the balcony.

There is a smattering of workstations and a neat coffee cum tea maker in one corner. The other corner is dominated by a huge desktop computer that is showing a business news channel and share prices of hundreds of companies scrolling down. “You see, I love multitasking. I am also a sub-broker with many clients”, says Deeptiman as he executes a trade with a few clicks on the keyboard of the desktop. 

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Deeptiman is indeed a unique person in Dinhata, a small town about 30 kilometers from Cooch Behar in North Bengal. He is a social activist who played a small but key role in the 2015 India-Bangladesh border agreement signed by Narendra Modi and Sheikh Haseena that ended a four-decade-old festering problem. He is proud of his small bit.

Those used to loud, shrill, and often hysterical party spokespersons on TV channels would be surprised by his demeanour as a BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) spokesperson. He is a rare BJP spokesperson who doesn’t appear fazed by the possibility that the BJP tally in West Bengal could come down from the 18 it won in 2019.
"The BJP's main aim this time is to psychologically finish the Congress party," a BJP spokesperson told me.

Deeptiman Sengupta.

(Photo: Author)

“It is possible. I personally think even Cooch Behar is not safe this time iIn 2019, the seat was won by the minister of state for Home Nisith Pramanik who got a 48 per cent vote share). Personally again, not as a party spokesperson, I don’t think the top leadership will mind too much. Their main aim this time is to psychologically finish the Congress as the leading opposition party”, he adds. In the 30 minutes we have spent interacting, Deeptiman has executed about 10 trades and taken about half a dozen calls. 

Above all, by interacting with him, one understands why Bengal has been called a land of dreamers with big ideas. He thinks something positive will emerge out of the relative economic regression of Bengal. According to him, the fact that hundreds of thousands of poor Bengalis are migrating out to the rest of the country for work means they will be exposed to new languages, ideas, and possibilities. This will eventually lead to new and disruptive ideas coming back to Bengal. That apparently would trigger a mindset change in the state that has been stuck in a political morass for decades.

Deeptiman thinks forward-looking and strong leadership can bring about dramatic and almost miraculous transformation. “Look at the opportunities. West Bengal can lead the northeast as and when it integrates with southeast Asia with Bangladesh and Myanmar as the gateways. Trade and commerce with the region can lead to massive development and prosperity,” he says.

According to him the possibilities of creating a new and dynamic co-prosperity region with the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries are endless. He points out how even a so-called “communist” Vietnam is rapidly becoming prosperous thanks to trade, commerce and investments.  

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The author, being a student of economics, is quite intrigued. When he asks Deeptiman how this can happen, the reply has complete clarity.

According to him, there are ten “border districts” in West Bengal-extending from 24 North Parganas near Kolkatta to Cooch Behar in North Bengal. Deeptiman says the only solution is for the central government to take complete charge of these ten districts, invest heavily in infrastructure, and connect them with ASEAN countries via Bangladesh.

This idea of the centre taking over border districts has been floating around for a while, primarily to put a halt to indiscriminate immigration. “You see. Demography is indeed destiny. Political parties will always have short-term goals of winning elections and will facilitate illegal immigration. But if the centre with a long-term vision takes over, the crisis can become a miraculous opportunity”, adds Sengupta.

When the author suggests this dream might well remain a dream, Deeptiman promptly responds: “Dreams do come true. You say you were doing your master's when Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress to 414 Lok Sabha and the BJP was reduced to use 2 seats. Did you not laugh at passionate BJP workers who told you then that their party will one day win 300 Lok Sabha seats? And this dream is not about elections. It is about India’s future”. The author has no response to that.

After 90 minutes of frequently interrupted conversation ad two wonderful cups of black tea, the author makes his way towards the royal palace of Cooch Behar where the legendary Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur spent parts of her childhood as a princess riding horses. Virtually no one the author talked to near the palace knows about Gayatri Devi. But yes, saffron flags are fluttering all over the place.  

(Sutanu Guru is the Executive Director of the CVoter Foundation. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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