Shankudeb Panda works the walkie-talkie to manage star exits from the rally site on Monday. Pictures by Amit Datta and Pradip Sanyal
Moon Moon Sen had just stepped off the stage after Mamata Banerjee’s speech and was walking towards her car with an aide holding an umbrella over her when a man in a white embroidered kurta-pyjama approached her.
She immediately turned her face away, more like an actress playing to a script than a politician trying to fob off an unwelcome face.
The lanky young man, holding a walkie-talkie, followed her and the two were soon chatting away nineteen to the dozen.
After seeing off Moon Moon, he walked back towards the gate leading to the stage where Mamata was holding fort, only to be surrounded by curious aides wanting to know why the actress-turned-MP had given him the cold shoulder at first.
Our young man burst into laughter. “Didi (Moon Moon, not Mamata) had given me two assignments, which I passed on to others. She was a bit upset but I have made up with her,” he told them.
Moments later, the lanky young man was back to being busy with an assignment he possibly wouldn’t have passed on to anyone: that of escorting actress Subhashree. His list of celebrity moments continued to grow over the next half an hour, including actor Dev, actress Koel Mallick and producer Shrikant Mohta.
In between escorting celebrities, the young man would tell the cops on duty how to handle the crowd and the traffic.
“I am just doing my job,” said Shankudeb Panda, the young man who calls the chief minister Pishi (aunt), leads Trinamul’s student wing, marshals his supporters whenever an academic institute is on the boil and offers a helping hand to education minister Partha Chatterjee.
Someone like Rajya Sabha member K.D. Singh, one of Mamata’s key resources in Delhi, may have been moving around backstage unnoticed, but hardly any Trinamul leader or guest missed the chance to exchange pleasantries with Shankudeb.
“He is from East Midnapore but he doesn’t have a political base there. In Calcutta, he is powerful and that’s because Didi likes him…. When some senior leaders could not control the crowd today, Didi asked him to intervene,” said a Trinamul leader.
Shankudeb’s other responsibilities included arranging for Mahasweta Devi to be taken to the dais on her wheel chair despite the absence of a ramp. “He deputed a team of workers to do the needful. And he made sure she reached her car before the rally ended,” a Trinamul functionary said.
Mamata’s Man Friday at the rally was also required to ensure that finance minister Amit Mitra, who injured his right wrist last week while attending a programme in Khardah, received special attention. “He kept medicines ready just in case Mitra needed them,” an aide of his said.
Party sources said Shankudeb had held meetings with the police administration and his own team days before the rally to draw up a plan to manage the “VIP crowd”.
If any proof of his standing in Mamata’s eyes was needed, it came when even senior police officers took instructions from him at the rally.
Monday wasn’t Shanku-deb’s first day in the limelight, though. He has been a fixture at all of Mamata’s cultural outings since she became chief minister. From the Pochishey Boisakh and Baishey Srabon extravaganzas to accompanying star candidates on their campaign trail, Shankudeb has been Mamata’s trusted celeb manager.
Shankudeb’s easy equation with first-time MP Moon Moon dates back to the campaign trail when he was constantly by her side.
Shankudeb declined to speak on his supposed expertise in VIP management. “This is our internal affair and cannot be shared with the media,” he said.