She does not have much cash in hand, but Shamali Das, Independent candidate from Kolkata South and Jadavpur constituencies, is worth a jaw-dropping `2,000 crore.
A descendant of Rani Rashmoni, the legendary widow of a zamindar who dared to confront the British to protect the poor, Das, 56, has inherited vast tracts of real estate in and around Kolkata, including the famous Dakshineswar Temple that Rashmoni built.
In her affidavit to the Election Commission, Das declared property worth `2,000 crore. She, however, has only `20,000 in hand and jewellery worth `40,000. “I was married at a very young age to Rani Rashmoni’s grandson, who is no more. I am the inheritor of all the property now,” the candidate, who lives in the sprawling Rani Rashmoni Bhavan in the heart of south Kolkata, said.
Frequent litigation over many properties she owns has made the otherwise Class VIII school dropout an expert in law related to land and property. “I decided to enter politics to fight for deprived people like me. In 2010, I contested the Municipal polls as a BJP nominee but local leaders didn’t let me speak my mind. So, I left the saffron fold and joined the Hindustan Nirman Party,” said Shamali Debi, as she is popularly called.
Das has little inkling about politics. “I have no political statement. I don’t want to indulge in mud-slinging. I want to carry forward the legacy of Rani Rashmoni who dared the British,” she said. Her famous ancestor blocked the Ganges when the British imposed taxes on poor fishermen, inviting huge penalties from the foreign rulers. But faced with a massive public backlash, the British finally withdrew the penalty. Later, Rashmoni donated generously for the Presidency College and the then Imperial Library, now known as the National Library. She also founded the Dakshineswar Temple and appointed Ramakrishna as head priest. “I fought a long legal battle and now the temple is in my name,” Das said proudly, adding that she had little faith in trusts. “A trust would have misused the temple like the man who was appointed caretaker and tried to grab it,” she said. Her agenda is clear. “I have been fighting the real estate mafia who now want to grab my home. But I will not cow down. I want to unite all the people whose inherited properties are being grabbed by these mafias and stop this menace. At times, I feel scared and that is why I have not involved my sons in my crusade,” Das said.
Her two sons, Abhijit and Amlan, are in their early 30s. While Abhijit works in a pathological laboratory and lives separately with his family, Amlan runs a small printing press within the family home. Das’ main source of income is the meager rent – Rs 10,000 – she earns per month from some tenants at Rani Rashmoni’s famous palace at Janbazar in Kolkata.