The decade-long relationship of a politician couple in the Indian state of West Bengal has hit rock bottom – and the headlines – after the wife switched to a rival party and her husband publicly threatened to divorce her.
On Tuesday, Saumitra Khan, a Member of Parliament for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Baratiya Janata Party (BJP), sent a letter of divorce to his wife, Sujata Mondal Khan, just a day after he joined the ruling Trinamool Congress Party (TMC).
West Bengal is preparing for the crucial meeting elections that are needed in a few months and the main competition is between BJP and TMC.
The Wife’s Statement
At a press conference in the provincial capital, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), on Monday, Ms Mondal Khan announced her decision to leave the BJP, citing several reasons for doing so.
She said the party had shown no respect for her, having taken on a few “corrupt leaders” from rival political parties, and promised to reward them by paying loyalists to the party.
“BJP has become a B group in Trinamool B. Now why should I stay in this group? Why shouldn’t I go to Group A – TMC?” she said.
The Husband’s Statement
A few hours later, at a hurriedly-called press conference which local reporters described as “dramatic”, Mr Khan, 40, fought back tears as he bared his anguish and vented his anger while announcing his decision to “sever the 10-year relationship” with his wife.
He asked his wife to leave his last name. “Please stop using ‘Khan’s surname after this, please don’t call yourself Saumitra Khan’s wife. I give you all the freedom to plan your political future,” said the Press Trust of India.
He further accused Trinamool of “destroying his home”.
“TMC stole my wife, snatched my love,” he said.
An elderly journalist in the city described it as the “unprecedented political drama” and the shocking news of the wedding, which was being aired on TV newscasts.
Since Monday’s press conferences, the couple have been in the media for a long time and have given a number of interviews – and personal and political issues are getting worse.
“She was my love. She was a wonderful wife. She was my only weakness. Indeed, I have feelings. We had been together for ten years,” Mr Khan told one reporter.
He acknowledged his wife’s role in his election win last year – he was barred from entering his constituency by a court in connection with a criminal case and she had campaigned extensively on his behalf, going door-to-door asking for votes and visiting remote villages to give speeches.
“But our story is over. I no longer have any contact with her,” he said. “I have accepted – Sujata is no longer with me.”
To another reporter, he dismissed his wife’s allegations that he was not respected in the BJP. “Mr Modi calls her his sister. What else can he ask for?” he asks.
The Exacerbating Relationship
Ms Mondal Khan also broke out in an interview as she accused her husband of neglecting her ten months ago.
“He was busy with politics. He doesn’t have my time. For months, he didn’t bother to ask me how I ate or how I slept,” he said.
“He was busy with politics. He doesn’t have time. For months, he didn’t bother to ask me how I ate or how I slept,” he said.
She also accused BJP leaders of “inciting” her husband and trying to “dissolve her marriage”.
“Who has cast their evil eye that Soumitra is threatening to divorce me?” she asked on prime-time news, fighting back tears.
Defections and counter-defections are not uncommon in India. And they certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise to Mr Khan – he started his career in the Congress party, moved to TMC in 2013 and joined the BJP only in January 2019.
Also, it is not uncommon for political rivals to coexist. In India, and throughout the world, there are family members who support opposition parties and happy marriages everywhere in the political arena.
In Bengal too, as Ms Mondal Khan points out, many local politicians – fathers and sons, uncles and nieces and nephews – who support completely opposing views “live happily and no one tells them to separate”.
“It’s a conspiracy of the BJP, they are asking him to leave me,” she told one of the interviewees. “But I think politics and home are different and should be kept separate.”
At a time when Bengal is so divided and there is a huge electoral war, that would be easier said than done.