Soumitra Mondal Khan, a BJP member of the Indian parliament, broke down in Kolkata the other day while dwelling on his grief before the media. The grief related to his wife Sujata's joining the Trinamul Congress (TMC). The TMC, complained Khan, had divided his family by stealing his wife from him, though he did not quite say how. It was a simple enough matter of his spouse, evidently not agreeing with him on his brand of politics, who thought of making her own political views clear. Disappointed with the BJP, she has gone over to the TMC. For that matter, her husband was once with the TMC before adopting his turncoat role of linking up with the BJP.
Khan has now decided, in his finite wisdom, to file for divorce. That again was quirky action. There are families everywhere where politics is a matter for the individuals constituting them. One quite does not understand why Khan, having been happily married to Sujata for the last decade -- and she even campaigned for him at the last Lok Sabha election, helping him not a little to get elected -- is now willing to sacrifice his family because he and his spouse do not follow the same line of politics any more. And he wept before the media, more than once.
Soumitra and Sujata are not the first people in a family to pursue different brands of politics. There have been others in our times, though they may not have been people married to one another. There is the rivalry between Sri Lanka's former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her brother Anura Bandaranaike. Children of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and SDRD Bandaranaike, the siblings pursued politics from different political parties, but they did not bring their family links to an end. Anura died suddenly in 2008. Chandrika, as President, was a target of the LTTE, losing one of her eyes to a suicide attack directed at her.
In recent weeks, we have had in the US the reality of Rudy Giuliani's daughter moving away from her father's politics and publicly letting people know that she was voting for Joe Biden at the presidential election. We can presume, though, that such independence on the part of the young woman will certainly not have closed the door on her ties with her father. Politics is where it ought to be; and family is where it should be. But, yes, often the truth is something else. It is especially in our South Asian clime that family and politics run aground when ideas are sometimes played out at their extremities.
Think back on Maneka Gandhi, the widow of Sanjay Gandhi. She and her son Varun are today with the Bharatiya Janata Party, while Sonia Gandhi and her children Priyanka and Rahul are deeply involved with Congress politics. The two branches of Indira Gandhi's family have remained estranged, with not much of communication between them. The bitterness dates back to the times when Maneka developed serious differences with Indira after the tragic death of Sanjay and moved out of the prime minister's residence in the early 1980s.
There are tales of families splitting, often in tragic manner, over their different political views. Benazir Bhutto at one point removed her mother Nusrat Bhutto from the leadership of the Pakistan People's Party. Begum Bhutto had been leading the party, even as Benazir waged a struggle against General Ziaul Haq, since the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Her ouster by her daughter was the first sign of discord in the Bhutto family. Circumstances were to worsen further, when Benazir's brother, the Bhuttos' elder son Murtaza, formed his own faction of the People's Party, naming it PPP (Shaheed Bhutto). While Benazir served as Pakistan's Prime Minister, Murtaza, by then implacably opposed to his sister's politics, was elected to the Sindh provincial assembly. Murtaza Bhutto was later murdered in Karachi in a shoot-out that has never been explained. His sister was then Prime Minister, but could do little to inquire into the assassination. In later years, Murtaza's daughter Fatima Bhutto, today a celebrated author, would hold Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari responsible for the death of her father.
Pakistan's first military ruler Ayub Khan had his brother Sardar Bahadur Khan, a respected individual playing proper parliamentary and ministerial roles in the 1950s, opposing his brand of politics. The siblings did not see eye to eye, but their disagreements did not make them wrangle in public. While Ayub ruled the country as its strongman, Bahadur Khan served as leader of the opposition in the national assembly in the early 1960s. The opposition was, as the record shows, at the time engaged in a struggle to restore parliamentary democracy, which Ayub's martial law had outlawed in 1958, in the country.
There is the case of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where N.T. Rama Rao, the actor-turned-politician, served as chief minister a multiple number of times. At a point, though, palace intrigue by his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu saw him lose his primacy in state politics. A family thus was divided along political lines, with rancour taking over.
In Soumitra Mondal Khan's case, it is his ego which has been humiliated. But, then, in politics one is expected to have a thick skin. Khan does not have that. His love for the BJP is clearly deeper than his love for his wife. It may well be that in the not too distant future, disgruntled with his current brand of politics, he will divorce the BJP. Where might that leave him, with both his party and his wife out of his life?