BengalLok Sabha elections

In Mamata’s Backyard: Saira Shah Halim’s Bid to Shift the Political Landscape

The CPM candidate from Kolkata South also said, "Last time we gave the BJP a run for their money, and this time we will defeat both corrupt TMC and fascist BJP"

Kolkata: Saira Shah Halim, CPI-M’s pick for South Kolkata, exclusively spoke to eNewsroom on her candidature, how this election is different for her and why voters should choose the CPM candidate over others. Excerpts from the conversation as we caught up with her when she was on her way to campaign in the areas adjoining the Kalighat temple.

eNewsroom: How has the 2022 by-poll prepared you for the present Lok Sabha election?

Saira Shah Halim: The 2022 by-poll was an interesting election, given that the incumbent MLA Subrata Mukherjee had passed away. So, the election was being held for a specific area- Ballygunge which is considered as the heart of the city. And I really did well as it was my first electoral foray. I ‘defeated’ the BJP, and the Congress and had come very close to winning. It has been alleged that some of the booths had been rigged. Had that not been the case, I am sure that I would have won.

eNewsroom: So what lessons have you learnt from the past election?

Saira Shah Halim: See, now this is a completely different ball game. That was for a single constituency and this time it’s seven. Also, this area is the main seat of Mamata Banerjee, where she has been winning. Now, we have Mala Roy, who is the present MP from this area. It’s a prestigious seat but a challenging terrain. But, I am quite equipped to face the challenges, considering that several issues need to be addressed like the mushrooming illegal construction, various vector-borne diseases plaguing the constituency, air index causing health issues and unemployment to name a few.

eNewsroom: Five points as to why people should vote for you?

Saira Shah Halim: They should vote for an educated, honest leader who has stood by the disenfranchised, the youth, the minority and the disempowered. I have been a very very vocal critic of the current fascist regime on all platforms – be it the television debates, be it on the ground, be it the CAA-NRC protest sites, I have been very vocal about everyone’s rights.

The rest of the candidates, I don’t want to comment on them. But.. It has been noticed that whenever an important bill is to be passed, they stage a walkout. The TMC MPs staged a walkout when CAA was being passed. Their attendance is abysmal. They are not even meeting the basic prerequisite to be a parliamentarian. So, in my opinion, such candidates are more of a deterrent than an asset.

So, if my constituency people decide to elect me, then I am going to be a vocal parliamentarian and will stand by my constituency.

I think I am the ideal candidate as I am educated, honest and above all have the spine to take on the corrupt and fascists, put together.

cpm candidate saira shah halim kolkata south lok sabha election
Saira Shah Halim during her roadshow in Kalighat | eNewsroom

eNewsroom: How do you plan to take on the term ‘bahirgata’ that can be used for you?

Saira Shah Halim: I can speak and write in four different languages – English, Hindi, Urdu and Bengali. I am very connected with the youths of this constituency. I am rooted as far as mass movements are considered. So, I think my candidature is very symbolic of the divisive forces who are trying to create a binary of ‘insider’ and outsider. I am a Kolkata girl. I was born in Kolkata when my father was posted here as a young captain. Being an army man’s daughter, I have also had the privilege to grow up in different parts of the country.

eNewsroom: The INDIA coalition is the weakest in Bengal. Your comment..

Saira Shah Halim: The Congress is supporting me and so are the various Left parties. But I really don’t know about Ms Mamata Banerjee’s commitment towards the coalition. She at the outset said that she would be putting her candidates in every seat. But yes, the Congress and the left have come to an understanding. The Congress has not fielded a candidate for Kolkata South and the Left chose not to have a candidate in Kolkata North.

eNewsroom: Do you think this will affect the coalition at the national level?

Saira Shah Halim: At the Indian level, we don’t have much of a choice, we have to fight the fascist communal forces that are hell-bent on dividing the country. We should form a coalition if we have to put them back into place.

eNewsroom: Do you think your family background is going to help you in certain ways?

Saira Shah Halim: I am here because of what I am and not because of my family background.

eNewsroom: You are a voter from this constituency, how would you rate your MP?

Saira Shah Halim: I don’t know about that, you should ask the general public. But the general message is that she is not seen much in the constituency nor is she vocal in the Parliament.

eNewsroom: Unlike in 2022, when you were pitted against a turncoat, this time both the opponents Mala Roy and Debasree Chaudhuri have a pretty good image. How do you plan to take them on?

Saira Shah Halim: Last time I gave the BJP a run for their money. I relegated them to the third spot. BJP and TMC both need to be defeated if we want divisive and corrupt forces to be decimated. This makes it even more important for people to support the Left Front candidate.

eNewsroom: How do you plan to connect with the voters, especially the youth?

Saira Shah Halim: Unlike other parties, we have chosen to begin our door-to-door campaign pretty early so that we can make a personal connection with the voters. We are campaigning on foot.

We are also using AI and technology to reach out to young voters.

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