Claiming to own 60 lakh bighas valued at Rs. 2,000 crore, independent candidate Shamali Das appears to be the wealthiest candidate in the fray in West Bengal. She is fighting from two constituencies - Kolkata South and Jadavpur - and positions herself as the widow of the fifth generation-descendant of Rani Rashmoni Das, the founder of Dakhshineshwar Kali Temple and an iconic figure in 19th century Kolkata.
According to her nomination papers, Ms. Das has only Rs. 20,000 cash in hand and Rs. 40,000 worth of jewellery, while the rest is inherited property whose papers she is yet to get possession of.
According to the papers, the total income declared is Rs. 1,74,240. She has passed class eight but claims to be illiterate. “I can only sign my name,” she said. She signed her nomination papers in English. And she sold her jewellery to raise funds for campaigning.
“The 60 lakh bighas that I own are part of Rani Rashmoni’s estate and are all under the government currently. All the disputes pertaining to my land were lifted in 2013. At present, my income source is through rent from the ancestral property of Rani Rashmoni. I manage to get about Rs. 10,000 from the tenants.. and it is difficult for me to make both ends meet. I had to sell my jewellery to raise money for campaigning,” Ms. Das told The Hindu.
“The fight for justice over our land dates back to 1937,” she said, sifting through photocopies of legal documents. Claiming ownership of vast stretches of land in the city, she said the land on which Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s house now stands on is hers. She also claimed ownership of the land on which former Chief Minister Jyoti Basu’s temporary residence Indira Bhavan was built. She also laid claim on Rani Rashmoni’s house in Janbazar in central Kolkata. “No one came to my help when I needed it. Ms. Banerjee started her political career from this house [119, Rash Behari Avenue, her residence] but now refuses to recognise me” Ms. Das lamented.
Her office space is stuffed with files. Asked what their contents are, she says, “Legal papers of our property, what else.” The air-conditioned office has a big table, a photocopy machine, and a flat screen television with a set-top box. Although the house is rundown, her office looks updated. A framed picture of her and expelled leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist) Rezzak Mollah graces her table. She said she had received Rs. 12,000 from Mr. Mollah to contest the elections. “My political journey started with the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2010… I’ve asked for help from all parties. But no one has come forward. That is why I decided to fight by myself. I have thrown my hat in the ring,” she said.
Her decision to contest the elections came out of the blue, said her manager Sanjay Daima. “One evening, I got a call from her saying that she would like to fight in the upcoming elections as an independent. We then formed the Hindusthan Nirman Party. The party is an unrecognised one since she decided to fight elections very late,” he said. Ms. Das submitted her nomination papers on April 23. She said she plans to contest more seats in the future. “I shall fight from all the constituencies where I own land,” she said.