Kolkata: A romance of 10 years that blossomed over shared political aspirations has died on the altar of the same ambition.
As BJP MP Saumitra Khan made good on his public vow and sent divorce papers to his wife Sujata Mondal Khan Tuesday, a day after she joined the Trinamool Congress, people close to the couple bemoaned the end of what they described as a fairytale courtship between two like-minded individuals.
Khan and Sujata, it is learnt, met in 2010, when he was a member of the Congress and she a teacher in a government primary school. As they got closer, Sujata was seen at all programmes involving Khan, standing by him like a “pillar”, senior BJP leaders who have known and worked with the couple for years told ThePrint.
A decade down the line, Khan’s divorce affidavit, accessed by ThePrint, teems with bitterness. In the four-page document, he has described Sujata as a “hyper-sensitive and quarrelsome” woman who “assaulted and mentally tortured” him to get a leg-up while she was with the BJP.
It claims the couple had been separated for six months, and that their marriage had suffered on account of Sujata’s political ambitions.
Khan and Sujata both come from two remote, forest villages — Saltora and Barjora, which are situated at a distance of 50 km in one of West Bengal’s most backward districts, Bankura.
Khan, who dropped out of college to work as a political worker, initially joined the Congress and earned representation at the panchayat level. In the 2011 assembly election, when the Congress was in alliance with the Trinamool, Khan won from the Kotulpur constituency in Bankura.
The victory came a year after he met Sujata. In 2012, when the Congress pulled out of the alliance, many of its MLAs joined the Trinamool. Khan was one of them. In 2014, he won his maiden term as MP from Bishnupur. Two years later, Sujata and Khan got married — to marry Khan, say acquaintances, Sujata had to go against her family.
“Saumitra made some personal sacrifice too. They were seen as a happy couple,” said a senior BJP leader. “Sujata has always been a woman whose presence was noticed in all political programmes.”
Khan joined the BJP in January 2019. Sujata, though the years, followed her husband through his different political affiliations. While she was a member of the Trinamool and BJP, in her early days, she was a Congress supporter.
According to the affidavit Khan filed with the Election Commission ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he faces six criminals cases, including for alleged criminal intimidation, fraud, criminal conspiracy, and property-related cheating. Following a court order in connection with the cases, which Khan describes as a Trinamool attempt to harass him, his entry to Bankura, of which Bishnupur is a part, was restricted during the election campaign.
At the time, Sujata stepped up, travelling across the constituency, including the interior villages, and delivering speeches at public rallies in support of her husband. Khan subsequently won the election, defeating veteran Trinamool leader Shyamal Santra by around 78,000 votes.
Both Sujata and Saumitra are known to be close to BJP vice-president Mukul Roy, also a former Trinamool Congress leader.
A public divorce
Sujata joined the Trinamool Congress — the party Khan defected from in January 2019 — Monday. She said she hoped better sense would prevail on her husband and he would return to the Trinamool Congress too.
However, soon afterwards, Khan said at a press conference that he would file for divorce within 24 hours. Seemingly fighting back tears, he said Sujata had suffered at the hands of the Trinamool after he joined the BJP, even losing her job, and accused Mamata Banerjee’s party of stealing his wife.
He admitted the couple had had differences, but said they were no different from the squabbles all married couples have. He added that his wife had joined the rival party to satisfy her political aspiration, and said his relationship with her was “over”.
“She left me and decided to join hands with the tormentors. I loved her genuinely and with all my heart. I never thought of any other woman in the past 10 years,” he added. “I tried to give her utmost love and care, and thought she would change. But I failed. So I decided to free her. I request her to drop my surname. She is known as MP Saumitra Khan’s wife. And I won in Bishnupur because I fought on a BJP ticket,” he said.
Responding to his decision to divorce her, Sujata told the media later Monday that it was Khan’s call. “It is his decision to divorce me. I will build my identity as Sujata Mondal. I wish him well and success in his political career. I will build mine,” she said.
On Tuesday, Khan, 40, a former MLA and a two-term MP, sent a legal notice to Sujata seeking divorce by mutual consent.
ThePrint reached Khan and Sujata for comment by phone calls and texts, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.
According to sources in the BJP, Khan and Sujata have been “going through personal issues, mostly related to Sujata’s personal ambitions, and are living separately”.
“However, despite the separation, Sujata never let go of opportunities to be featured as a BJP woman leader,” said a second BJP leader from the district. “She participated in all major BJP programmes.”
As of Tuesday, a day after she left the party, the cover photo of Sujata’s Facebook profile was still one from a meeting with PM Narendra Modi.