‘Vote for someone who is passionate about causes’

As the 18th Parliamentary Elections head towards the seventh and last phase in West Bengal, the Kolkata South constituency, often touted as “Mini India”, gears up to exercise its right to adult franchise on 1 June

‘Vote for someone who is passionate about causes’


As the 18th Parliamentary Elections head towards the seventh and last phase in West Bengal, the Kolkata South constituency, often touted as “Mini India”, gears up to exercise its right to adult franchise on 1 June. The seat holds immense significance, as it is not only the ruling party’s bastion but also the home of the incumbent chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. Interestingly, in the ongoing polls, the three prominent political parties—the ruling Trinamul Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party—have all put up strong women as candidates.

CPIM’s Saira Shah Halim is contesting against TMC veteran Mala Roy, who is the sitting Parliamentarian from the South Kolkata seat and also the chairperson of Kolkata Municipal Corporation. She is also contesting against BJP candidate Debasree Chaudhury, who is a former Union minister of state and the Raiganj MP from the saffron party. Saira Shah Halim rose to prominence when she was fielded against TMC’s Babul Suprio and BJP’s Keya Ghosh for the Ballygunge seat in 2022. Securing 30,971 votes against Babul Supriyo’s 51,199, she emerged second by a margin of 20,228 votes. In a candid interview with The Statesman’s Nishat Nizami, the CPI(M) candidate, who is being supported by the other opposition party in the state, Congress, opens up about her party’s strengths, its chances in the ongoing elections, and other issues.

Following are the excerpts:


Q: You have a fascinating trajectory. You went from being a homemaker to a theatre personality who went on to join the corporate world, and now you have entered politics. What was the driving force behind your coming into politics?

A: I was in the corporate sector for 17 years, working for multinational organisations. I started writing when I felt democracy was being curtailed in the country. It was then that the national media started approaching me about participating in various political debates. So I have been debating and talking about issues like bills, policy governance and other issues for the past ten years. It was in 2022 when the party approached me about contesting the bypolls for the Ballygunge seat, and I readily accepted the offer.

Q: Though you are married to a political family, you have spent years taking care of your family as a homemaker. What made you decide to join active politics at this point in time?

A: Actually, I did not choose to enter politics, nor was there any particular plan for timing. The fact is, the party leadership chose me as the by-poll candidate even though I was not a member, perhaps having noticed my proactive political activism and writing. Having said that, however, I have been actively associated with the Left through my family, as my father-in-law, Mr Hashim Abdul Halim, was the longest-serving Speaker of the West Bengal Assembly. Although I was not a card-holding member of the party, I always supported it. I have also campaigned for my husband since 2011, and it was then that I started getting interested in politics. I have launched authors and have also participated in peace initiatives and gotten awards for them. Because of my contribution to peace initiatives and in the sphere of literature, the party approached me in 2022 for the Ballygunge bypoll as they wanted a face that was associated with civic rights movements, and I agreed to it.

Q: As far as these elections are concerned, you have a TMC veteran on one side and a former Union minister on the other. The seat is known as the ruling party’s bastion. Despite the tough fight, what gives you the confidence to remain firmly in the fray?

A: My candidature is very cosmopolitan. I am a very good debater and can speak in four languages. It is my energy that makes me different from the others. I think people are realising that one needs to look beyond the party symbol and vote for the candidate who can raise their issues in Parliament.

Q: During your campaign, you have often claimed that CPI(M) is the only alternative for the people of West Bengal, while many are of the opinion that the ongoing Lok Sabha Election is a fight between the BJP and the TMC. What would you say to that?

A: This binary was created, but we broke it. When we look at the civic polls, the panchayat polls, and the bypolls, we have broken the binary of BJP versus TMC.

Q: What, according to you, is your party’s path of revival?

A: The party feels that they need to infuse fresh faces and younger blood so that the old image of the Left somehow sheds off. This has shown very good results when we look at candidates like Srijan, Minakshi and Dipshita, who are honest, hard-working, and principled people. Also, having Mohammed Salim at the helm of affairs has really boosted the morale of the party. He is the general secretary and has made some critical decisions that have enabled the resurgence of the Left.

Q: On one side, the BJP at the Centre has a strong base, while the TMC in the state is the largest party. Why should voters opt for CPI(M)?

A: We are offering a very clean and honest campaign, which is something that is attracting the youth, the middle class, and first-time voters who do not vote blindly and are well-read.

Q: What kind of performance of your party do you see in the ongoing polls and the state assembly elections?

A: We, that is, the Left and the Congress, are fighting the elections together. Both parties combined are reading up to gain at least 11 to 12 seats and many more in the Assembly elections. This is how the resurgence is happening. We are doing it very gradually.

Q: Talking about your Lok Sabha seat, what are the top three areas where you would like to focus if you become the next MP?

A: Urban poverty alleviation is a big issue in Kolkata South. I have been spending a lot of time in the slum areas and know the kinds of problems that the people face. Other areas that I would like to focus on are employment, healthcare, improvement in living standards, creating a better air index, better roads, and sanitation. I would also like to debate in Parliament on issues like price hikes if I become the next MP.

Q: What advice would you like to give the voters of your constituency?

A: I would say to vote for someone who is visible, who is a debater, and who is passionate about causes. I would appeal to them to vote for the candidate and not for the party because it is the MP who will work in your area and highlight and amplify your voices.