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regular-article-logo Friday, 21 June 2024

Grass is green and Milk is white

The author reports from freshly minted politician Rachana Banerjee’s Singur roadshow

Chandrima S. Bhattacharya Published 19.05.24, 07:32 AM
REAL SHOW: Rachana Banerjee on a campaign trail.

REAL SHOW: Rachana Banerjee on a campaign trail. Photo by Pradip Sanyal

Singur has not brought out the best in Rachana Banerjee, effervescent anchor of the Bengali television show Didi No.1 and now Trinamool candidate from Hooghly.

For many women it is a dream to be on Rachana’s show. It gets its popularity from her screen persona, which is warm, effusive and full of empathy. What the 51-year-old, who had a career in Bengali and Odia films before she turned to television, says might be anodyne for some, but life-sustaining for others. During her almost two-month-long campaign in Hooghly, however, the statement from Rachana that has made the greatest impact is the one about doi or curd from Singur, its cows and grass.

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After having lunch at a mud hut in Singur, an overwhelmed Rachana spoke about the fertile Singur soil, how it makes the grass grow in abundance, which the cows graze on and produce an abundant supply of superlative milk, which turns into superlative curd. The comment had people cracking up.

Rachana’s vision of a pastoral paradise led to a flow of memes. Sitting MP from Hooghly, the BJP’s Locket Chatterjee, said, “She is right. Only cows graze in Singur, only grass grows there.”

TMC candidate Rachana Banerjee campaign at Balagarh

TMC candidate Rachana Banerjee campaign at Balagarh

All talk of cows, grass and fertile soil take on a special significance in Singur. Mamata Banerjee landed in Writers’ Buildings via Singur in 2011 after she stopped the Tata Nano factory from coming up. How the farmers benefited is debatable. They got back their land, but the soil, mixed with concrete and other materials, did not get back its fertility. Many farmers felt betrayed by the apathy the party showed towards them after its victory.

One of seven Assembly constituencies in Hooghly, the Singur Assembly seat has been held by the Trinamool since 2011, but in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won Hooghly. In Singur too the party was ahead of the Trinamool.

As if the doi was not enough, Rachana has also remarked that the smoke from factory chimneys that filled the air as she was reaching Singur was proof of extensive industrialisation in the area. “Dhoan, dhoan,” she said, with a flourish of her hands, flashing her famous smile.

On a hot morning in early May, when West Bengal is yet to be blessed with rains, Rachana is back in Singur, doing a roadshow, standing in an open SUV.

A young man holds an umbrella over her head. By her side is Becharam Manna, the popular Singur MLA from the Trinamool, who is un-brollied. Rachana is wearing a full-sleeved cotton blouse and a cotton sari. (It is well-known that candidates are marked on their ability to take the sun.)

At around 11am, at Ratanpur, a Singur locality, Rachana’s arrival is announced with blaring mikes and a train of chhota hatis or small trucks carrying Trinamool supporters. Hundreds have gathered to see her. They are mostly women. Brandishing their mobiles, they seem ready to throw themselves at her vehicle. Not long ago, the chief minister herself was on Rachana’s TV show, which features women contestants from the humblest of backgrounds to celebrities. On the show, Rachana listens intently to their stories of everyday life and struggle.

As her cavalcade winds its way through Ratanpur, home to many cold storages — Singur is famous for its potatoes — Rachana is cast in a non-speaking role. She shakes hands with the women, looks into their cameras and smiles, says a word or two and moves on. She also visits two temples.

A group of women, some of them in nighties and gamchhas, wait for her eagerly at the Boro Jagaddhatri temple crossing. They admit they were there to see Didi No. 1 and all else is secondary.

TMC candidate Rachana Banerjee campaign at Balagarh

TMC candidate Rachana Banerjee campaign at Balagarh

If she wins, what can Rachana do for them? No one answers, as if it is an irrelevant question. Locket does not evoke any response either. “We haven’t seen her,” says a woman. “And Rachana campaigns in the sun,” says another.

The men are also watching Rachana, but with a little less enthusiasm. Sourav Samanta, who is in his 30s and runs a mobile phone store in Ratanpur, speaks about unemployment. He too referred to the soil quality: that the land here once yielded three to four crops, including paddy and potatoes.

“The job scandal in the state is a shame, too,” says Samanta’s neighbour who does not want to be identified. “But in Singur, the Trinamool has no worries. Rachana or no Rachana, the votes will go to our MLA Becharam, who works hard for us,” he adds.
At 1.30pm, Rachana breaks for lunch. The party workers accompanying her assemble at a community centre in Lohapatty. Rachana goes to a private residence in Nasibpur where she is to lunch and also meet the media. She retires to a room and the reporters are asked to wait.

At 3.30pm, it is announced that Rachana needs a nap. Half an hour later, each reporter — there are three — is given five minutes. Rachana is seated in a bedroom, composed, smiling and rubbing lotion vigorously on her hands. They look sunburnt and rough. She comes straight to the point. “I know that all who have come to see me will not vote for me.”

She says she is continuing with the shooting of Didi No. 1, taking time out from campaigning. She also admits to not being too aware of the local concerns. “I am not a political person. This is a challenge. No one will speak of his or her problems immediately upon meeting me,” she says. “But I am assuring people that I will be there. Water is a problem here.”

“I have been an entertainer for 28 years. Politics requires you to work on the ground,” she adds.

But a celeb-turned-politician has to be both. One can almost see where the comment on Singur doi came from. Maybe she is just being Didi No. 1, or herself perhaps.
But I have to revise my thoughts the next moment. When asked what is happening on the factory ground, Rachana’s tone suddenly becomes sharp. “What’s happening there? Nothing!” she says. “What was to happen? The fields are being cultivated, the farmers are back...” she declares.

And the grass is growing, and the cows are bursting with health, and milk is flowing abundantly and turning into excellent curd.

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