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West Bengal Assembly Elections | Will the stars align this election?

As the BJP and Trinamool bet on celebrity power in the winner-takes-all battle, some voters say political grounding is a must while others feel their clean slate is just what it takes for poriborton.

March 28, 2021 11:36 pm | Updated March 29, 2021 12:01 am IST - Kolkata

Actor and BJP candidate for Behala East Paayel Sarkar doing door-to-door campaigning.

Actor and BJP candidate for Behala East Paayel Sarkar doing door-to-door campaigning.

In the first week of March, veteran actor Mithun Chakraborty graced the famous Brigade Parade Ground here to join the BJP and begin his political journey with a new dialogue: “ Aami ekta cobra, jat ghokhro, ek chhobol e chhobi [I am a cobra, I will bring death in one strike].”

Around the time of the inclusion of the actor, once seen as close to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a host of other celebrities jumped on the bandwagon in the midst of one of India’s most interesting elections in recent history.

While the Trinamool Congress is known for bringing celebrities into its fold, the BJP has followed suit, fielding television stars and other popular figures this time.

Will it cut ice or is it just another ploy by political parties that is bound to fall flat on its face?

Politics not cinema’

Soumyadip Mitra, a 29-year-old techie from Behala East, said the BJP has lost out on a seat by fielding Paayel Sarkar (actor). He says, “Sovan Chatterjee used to win by huge margins when he was with the TMC. Paayel is clueless about the dynamics here.”

“TMC candidate Ratna Chatterjee has visited our apartment thrice, but Paayel not once,” he said. Mr. Mitra claims Paayel cannot be considered a big star like Dev or Mithun.

In Behala West, where the BJP has fielded actor Srabanti Chaterjee against veteran TMC leader Partha Chatterjee, people seem to be ignorant about the “star”. Shamyal, a driver, said: “Politics is not cinema. Partha [Chaterjee] has worked for us over the years. Srabanti is an actor, what does she know?”

Asansol Dakshin, an Assembly constituency in Paschim Bardhaman district, is one of the places where celebrities will have a face-off.

A BSc (Hons.) student, Binit Chakraborty, said: “I want to ask if designer Agnimitra Paul [BJP candidate] or actor Saayoni Ghosh [TMC candidate] will stay with us after their win? One of them stays in Kolkata and the other in Delhi. We need someone from our city, like Sushanto Ghosh (CPI-M). He is an advocate from Asansol.”

“Last time, the TMC won because they fielded Tapas Banerjee who is from the city. How many people even watch movies on OTT platforms here to know Saayoni Ghosh?” he said. The same sentiment was reinforced when Maya, a domestic help, said she has just heard that Saayoni is an actor.

Baranagar, once a Left bastion which was taken over by the TMC in 2011, too has an interesting scenario. The TMC is banking on veteran Tapas Roy, while the BJP will go with actor Parno Mittra, a newbie. A housewife, requesting anonymity, said: “We do not know Parno much. She did not even visit us. Mr. Roy, of course, is familiar.”

Someone familiar

At Uttarpara, a government official said the TMC should have fielded someone with a political background. “We need someone who knows the area. Kanchan Mullick [the TMC candidate] is a comic relief.”

Namin, a municipal worker, reiterated the same point: “Does the party consider us fools?”

Tollygunje, the south Kolkata locality popularly known as the centre of the Bengali film industry, is not seeing many new faces this electoral battle, except CPI(M)’s Debdut Ghosh.

Retired government employee Ardhendu Narayan Guha said when Mamata Banerjee came to power, there were some communal tensions at a Hindu-dominated slum in the area. “Aroop Biswas [the TMC candidate] might have irked some people at the time, but his other good work might keep him in good stead.”

In Barrackpur, popular film director Raj Chakraborty will face tough competition from BJP candidate Chandramani Shukla. “Mamata tends to discard old team members for new ones. It’s more of a ‘Tollywood Trinamool Congress’ now. The people have understood that dorkari jake pai, sorkare takei chai [Whom we get during crisis, we want them in power],” said Nilabhra, a cultural worker.

Mani, a rickshaw-puller, has a slightly different take. “We need someone who can help us get employment. We have lost a lot during the lockdown. BJP’s Chandramani Shukla might get sympathy votes as his son, Manish Shukla, was murdered,” he said.

Rupam, a social media manager with Indian Railways, said Raj Chakraborty made the cut as the TMC had to field a clean candidate. “His rags-to-riches story might sell too.”

At Krishnanagar Uttar (North), Koushani Mukherjee from the TMC is winning hearts. “She is campaigning well and understands the politics of the region,” says primary teacher Anupam.

Greenhorn dividend

Meanwhile, some people believe that the political inexperience of celebrities is compensated by their ‘clean’ image and might bring in poriborton (change).

At Rajarhat-Gopalpur, banker Pratayay Gupta said of singer Aditi Munshi, the TMC candidate, “One does not need to have a political background to take administrative decisions. Most political leaders are corrupt anyway. The cleanliness that celebrities bring is refreshing. But it all depends on how they manage to retain hold after the polls.”

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