Sinlung /
12 March 2014

Meet Silchar's first family – one that has held office since 1952

By Prasanta Mazumdar

Elections are a mere formality for the Dev family in Assam's second largest town, Silchar.

Barring five years in between, a member of the family has held an elected office — be it a municipal seat, an assembly or a Parliamentary seat — since 1952.

The family's political journey started with Satindra Mohan Dev, a freedom fighter in India's independence struggle, who later served as a minister in the state. His son, Santosh Mohan Dev, followed suit.

He contested nine Parliamentary elections, of which he won seven, for the Congress. In five of these, he represented Silchar in the Lok Sabha while in the other two, he represented Tripura, and in the process, secured a rare distinction of being elected from two states. Santosh lost on two occasions, in 1998 and in 2009.

Santosh's wife Bithika Dev too has represented Silchar in the state legislative assembly from 2006-2011. It was only between 1971 and 1975 and for one year between 1998 and 1999 that no member of the Dev family held an elected office. For the 2014 general election, the Congress is fielding Santosh's daughter Sushmita, an MLA, from the Silchar seat.

A lawyer, Sushmita is an alumnus of the Thames Valley University, London and Kings College, London University. She plunged into active politics in 2009 by successfully contesting the municipal elections and in 2011 contested in the assembly elections and became an MLA.

"We have won most often because we have worked for the people and the area," said Sushmita. "We are not tainted and my father's public touch and grassroots connection is immense."
Silchar resident Biswajit Gupta explained that the family is accessible, which adds to their winnability quotient. "They (Dev family) have often won because they are immensely popular. They can easily mingle with voters and are not snobbish."

Bikash Dutta, a voter in Silchar, however, pointed out that Santosh Mohan Dev lost the 2009 elections because of the polarisation of the Muslim votes. "The Congress always had the edge here because of the division of Hindu votes (counting Adivasis who work in tea estates). The Hindu votes have often gone to both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party," said Dutta.

"But the Muslims largely voted in favour of the Congress in Silchar until the emergence of the All India United Democratic Front."
Muslims constitute 35 per cent of the voters in the Silchar constituency. In 2009, Santosh was up against AIUDF chief and perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal and the BJP's Kabindra

Purkayastha, who won by a margin of 41,470 votes. However, Dev lost out to Ajmal, who polled a little over 200,000 votes to his 197,244.
Wooing Muslims and consolidating the Hindu votes is not going to be an easy task for Sushmita, who faces a stiff challenge from AIUDF's BK Nath and Samata Party's AH Laskar, a former MLA. But she is optimistic about her prospect. "I have worked with integrity and made visible changes in my area," she said.


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