|That’s Babul: Dressed in red trousers, the BJP candidate addresses supporters in his constituency Asansol. Picture by Amit Datta
Scorecard: Mamata Banerjee 4, Narendra Modi 1.
The Bengal chief minister has beaten her Gujarat counterpart in terms of the number of meetings held for her candidate in the Asansol Lok Sabha constituency, Dola Sen. But Modi's man, singer Babul Supriyo, doesn’t seem worried at all.
“I have made only one promise in my election meetings — I want to build a bridge between Asansol and Delhi. With Modiji coming here for the campaign, the foundation has been laid,” Supriyo said immediately after Modi’s rally on the Polo Grounds on Sunday.
Over 1.5 lakh people attended the rally, which according to police sources would be more than the combined turnout at the four meetings that Mamata has held in Kulti, Salanpur, Raniganj and Asansol for Sen, a trade union leader said to be a close aide of the chief minister.
While turnouts at meetings do not necessarily translate into votes, the buzz in this constituency, dotted with legal and illegal coal mines and open and locked-out industrial units, is that Supriyo is making his presence felt not only as a celebrity but also as a politician.
“I have never been into politics, but I have closely followed both national and international politics,” said Supriyo, a self-confessed geek who carries two iPhones and uses them for regular updates on Facebook.
The BCom graduate is also a keen observer of the global economy and is comfortable talking about the policies of the top two women in the world of international economics — Jenet L. Yellen, Federal Reserve chairman and Christine Lagarde, president of the IMF.
But his armoury for Asansol is basic.
Riding on the surge in support for the BJP, Supriyo — with Modi’s development agenda and Bollywood songs on his lips — is criss-crossing the constituency since the last week of March. The impact can be seen both in the tan he has got and the kilos he has lost.
“In terms of physical labour, I have never worked so hard…. My trousers are getting loose even after alterations. I am using belts,” smiled Supriyo, whose seamless transition from a celebrity to a politician has already become the talking point in Asansol.
Unlike some of the other celebrity candidates in the fray, there is no security ring around Supriyo, which makes him accessible to supporters. Instead of standing atop vehicles and waving at the crowds, he is walking into villages and humble households.
Dressed in solid coloured shirts and fitted trousers — “I still wear red pants because that’s me” — and wearing choicest perfumes, Supriyo has been seen at tea stalls or kachori shops with young voters.
Leaving aside starry tantrums, he has been following the instructions of BJP district president Nirmal Karmakar and attending all meetings.
“I am not from politics, neither have I done any major social work. Main Asansol ki zindagi mein thodi si asani lana chahta hoon, (I want to bring some relief to the life of Asansol),” he has been saying at almost all his rallies.
The combination of a short speech, followed by a few popular Hindi songs, has made his street corners a hit in the town.
“The popularity of our candidate is increasing with each passing day. This has scared Trinamul,” said BJP supporter Ajay Bansal, standing near the Polo Ground where Modi held his rally on Sunday.
Most BJP supporters in Asansol think that the biggest indicator of Trinamul scare is the cases slapped on the 44-year-old singer. Supriyo has already been booked in six cases, including one under the Arms Act, another for blocking a National Highway and the other for campaigning in an inebriated state.
Using the PR skills he picked up during his two decade association with Bollywood, Supriyo has successfully used the row over the cases and the subsequent clean chit in some of them to reach out to people in the constituency, which has over 14 lakh voters.
“All these allegations were brought by Trinamul…. They have made me stronger,” said Supriyo.
In the poll season, when even seasoned politicians often fail to control their tongues, Supriyo has been cautious despite the multiple cases against him.
“The battle for Asansol is actually between Mamata and Modi, as Dola is the Bengal chief minister’s candidate while everyone knows that Babul is Modiji’s man,” said a Rajasthani trader, whose family is living in Asansol for two generations.
Rough estimates suggest that about 40 per cent of the electorate are Hindi-speaking migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan. BJP leaders are banking on them to score a victory from the seat, which has been a Left fief for years before Trinamul made inroads by capturing the trade unions in factories.
According to Supriyo, he was aware from Day One that he had a tough fight at hand in Asansol. “I had a choice between Asansol and Serampore…. As someone who has grown up in Hooghly, Serampore could have been ideal for me. But when BJP president Rahul Sinha told me that he wanted me to contest from Asansol, I agreed,” the singer recounted.
“Now that I am in the fray, I want to win…. Look at the excitement of people…. Don’t you think that they will vote for me?” he asked as supporters almost mobbed him after his car stopped for a rally at Basti no 8 in Gandhi Market, which comes under ward no 48 of Asansol Municipality.
Although Suryya Ray, the BJP nominee in Asansol in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, got just 5.56 per cent votes, senior BJP leaders in the state think that Supriyo has a decent chance.
“I want Babul in Parliament… Will you make it possible?” Modi had asked during his address on Sunday. The roaring response on the Polo Grounds brought smiles to the faces of both Modi and Supriyo.
Supriyo may have won the hearts of Asansol voters, but his two main opponents — Sen of Trinamul and the CPM’s Bansa Gopal Chowdhury — are no minnows.
Not only has Mamata held four meetings for Sen, Trinamul’s star campaigners, like singers Nachiketa, music composer Jeet Gannguly and actor Mithun Chakraborty, have held rallies for the Trinamul nominee in which Supriyo came under attack.
Left leaders, on the other hand, are busy in intensive door-to-door campaigning in traditional strongholds Jamuria and Raniganj.
“I could have requested my friends in Mumbai to come down and campaign for me…. But I had decided from the very beginning that I would not do that. So I haven’t had any celebrity to campaign for me,” Supriyo said.
“There is only one star and that’s Modiji. He is enough for me,” he summed up.
• Asansol votes on May 7