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Didi’s battle, ‘dummy’ in ring

MLA, minister, member of Parliament, Trinamul Congress state chief. Subrata Bakshi has an impressive CV, especially for someone who does not have much say in the party.

But he has one strong point, perhaps his only one: a time-tested allegiance to his leader — Mamata Banerjee. So much so that he took voluntary retirement from his bank job to be by her side.

Now Election 2014 has got him another role: Mamata’s “dummy” from Calcutta South who is fighting the Left, BJP and the Congress alongside his identity crisis.

Ask anybody in this constituency and they would say it’s Mamata who looms large, though Bakshi is the candidate.

“Every single vote Bakshida gets will be in the name of Mamatadi. In this constituency, none else matters but Mamatadi,” said Prasanta Banik, 40, who sells tea on a New Alipore pavement.

Since 1991, Mamata has never lost from Calcutta South. In 2004, Trinamul recorded its worst Lok Sabha tally. Only one party MP had made it to Parliament then, and that was Mamata, from Calcutta South.

On Monday, when the constituency votes in the last leg of the battle for India, the Bengal chief minister will not figure on the list of candidates. Her “representative” will, but only on paper, of course.

Not surprisingly, the “dummy”, as many described Bakshi, appeared displeased. “Here, I am the candidate, not Mamata. I am organising meetings and roadshows. And you all are talking about Mamata. That’s not fair,” said the sitting MP from the seat after wrapping up a rally in Bhowanipore.

“But, of course,” he quickly added, “without Mamata’s blessings, without her name, how can I fight this election? That’s not possible. She is our mascot. And I will win because of her.”

Mamata has held two big rallies at Behala Chowrasta and Tollygunge Phari, breathing life into the campaign of the man who in 2011 gave up his Bhowanipore Assembly seat, part of the Calcutta South parliamentary constituency, so that his leader could be elected to the Assembly. Bakshi later won the Lok Sabha bypoll from Calcutta South, which Mamata vacated.

Trinamul flags and banners flutter at every nook and corner of the constituency Mamata had won in 2009. Be it Peary Mohan Roy Road in Kalighat, Alipore Road leading to Behala or the roundabout near Durgapur bridge, the flower and grass seem to have sprouted in every locality. It’s the same picture on Diamond Harbour Road and at Kidderpore More.

Trinamul won all the Assembly seats in the constituency — Ballygunge, Bhowanipore, Kasba, Rashbehari, Calcutta Port, Behala East and Behala West — in the 2011 state elections. Of the 61 wards in Calcutta South, Trinamul controls 52.

In upscale Ballygunge and Rashbehari, people gathered in balconies as Trinamul processions marched down roads. When Bakshi waved and signalled them to come down, many did. “Mamata amader gharer meye, Bakshi ore protinidhi (Mamata is our own daughter, Bakshi is her representative). That’s why we came down,” said a person in his sixties who didn’t want to give his name.

Not everyone shared the enthusiasm. Arghya Sil, a resident of Harish Mukherjee Road, says the “Mamata magic” has waned. “The Trinamul government has made a mess of everything,” said the computer assistant in a private firm, citing the Saradha scandal and the TET (Teachers’ Eligibility Test) “mismanagement”.

“But it’s difficult to dislodge Trinamul from Calcutta South,” he conceded. “They have a big vote bank here.”

Calcutta Municipal Corporation chairman and Bakshi’s campaign manager Sacchidananda Banerjee nods. “We are hearing about the Narendra Modi wave. It could be that the BJP will increase its vote share. But that won’t affect Trinamul’s prospects,” he said. “Let’s see how much the BJP gains.”

If Banerjee sounded confident, so did Tathagata Roy. The BJP candidate has hardly ventured out of his P-70 Lake Road residence. “First there were the CBSE examinations. Then came a few spells of kaalbaisakhi. That disrupted many of my meetings,” he said. “But I have nothing to worry. It’s not the organisation but the Modi wave that will see me through, I hope.”

Unlike Roy, CPM nominee Nandini Mukherjee has been on her toes. In ward 77 of this constituency, Mukherjee organised a procession on Friday evening that began from Ekbalpore More. The computer science professor of Jadavpur University stepped out of her car to speak with this reporter.

Wasn’t she fighting Mamata in her bastion? “No,” she replied. “We are fighting not against an individual but an unprincipled party. Look at the government too. There’s no women’s security. Law and order has deteriorated. People will vote for change this time.”

A quick tour of Rashbehari and minority-dominated areas of Kidderpore, Garden Reach and Tiljala hinted at some comfort for the beleaguered Congress too. Party candidate and ward 88 councillor Mala Roy is battling hard, mostly touring the Muslim majority areas. “I cannot forecast election results, but we are getting a good response, particularly from the minority areas,” Roy said.

At Kidderpore crossing, a crowd had gathered to hear Trinamul minister Firhad Hakim speak.

“We Muslims are divided on our support to Trinamul and the Congress. Some votes will go to the CPM also,” said one of the listeners.

Has Trinamul’s support base among the minorities split?

The huge roadshow that Mamata organised for Bakshi on Saturday, from Sukanta Setu in Jadavpur till Ekbalpore More in south Calcutta, was perhaps an indication of her concern for her “prestige seat”.

So what her dummy is in the ring? Anything less than a thumping win from Calcutta South would mean a personal setback.