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Can Trinamul's Mimi Chakraborty's star appeal triumph CPM veteran Bikash Bhattacharya

Mimi’s campaign resembles a carnival but will local issues burst the balloon

  • Published 14.05.19, 7:58 AM
  • Updated 14.05.19, 7:58 AM
  • 4 mins read
Trinamul’s Jadavpur candidate Mimi Chakraborty (right) campaigning with state minister Arup Biswas (centre). Picture by Gautam Bose

Thursday, May 9, 9am. Braving a sun that is burning into the flesh, a crowd has assembled along the two sides of a narrow lane near Ramlal Bazar in Haltu in south Calcutta. The loudspeaker has been announcing an arrival for a while.

“Welcome, Mimi Chakraborty, welcome!” it goes. Mimi, celebrated Tollywood (as the Bengali film industry is known) actress, nominated as the Trinamul candidate from Jadavpur constituency in the Lok Sabha elections, has been in the offing since the morning. But first her signs arrive.

Two men wearing Trinamul colours march into the lane in Jadabgarh, a strictly middle-class neighbourhood in Haltu, in KMC Ward No. 105, with buildings and apartments growing cheek by jowl. The stilts are followed by dhakis and people bearing flowers and balloons. Six young girls follow, wearing the traditional Bengali “costume” of red-bordered white saris and looking like dancers. A second band of drummers follow. The beat of these drums and the dhakis’ rhythms together rise to a crescendo, even as the loudspeaker keeps blaring.

It feels like a regular Durga Puja bisarjan procession, only, of course, it is an election campaign. Mimi finally swims into sight, standing on an open black jeep. She is well-protected: in a pale yellow salwar kameez, she is fitted with sunglasses, a white cap on her head and a security person holding a wide multi-coloured umbrella over head. By her side are two Trinamul leaders: heavyweight Arup Biswas and former MP from the constituency Manish Gupta (who defeated former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee from here).

Mimi waves, a smile never leaving her face. Bystanders are asked not to throw flowers at her; apparently she has “flower allergy”. An invisible — or maybe not so invisible — screen shields her from the multitudes.

Behind her people trundle. They are the Trinamul workers, in T-shirts that say “Biyallishe biyallish” (42/42, the Trinamul claim to score 100 per cent of the seats in Bengal), or Trinamul saris. They are bringing up the rear. Apart from large Trinamul flags, they are carrying tricolour balloon sculptures that have attempted to recreate the Trinamul symbol of the two flowers. A triumphal arch of tricolour balloons is bobbing up and down.

Mimi’s campaign is a spectacular display of balloon art. One balloon-bearer hopes the roadshow ends soon: this procession ends at Ramlal Bazar. In Ward 106, Mimi’s next stop, Trinamul workers from that ward will take over.

Mousumi Saha, a middle-aged woman who lives in a Jadabgarh lane, is a happy Mimi-watcher. In a nightie and a dupatta wrapped around her shoulders, she has left her household work to catch a glimpse of the actress. Waiting for Mimi, she spoke of the problems of her neighbourhood.

Water supply was a problem in the ward, till last month. Saha credited Trinamul councillor Tarun Mandal with installing the water pipes. Drainage was also a problem. The road in the lane had been built up and raised, which stopped water from draining out from the front of their house.

Then Mimi arrives, a vision in pale yellow, and glides away, silently. Street corners erupt in more music.

The 30-year-old Mimi, like her actress-colleague Nusrat, also a first-timer and a Trinamul candidate (from Basirhat), is a talking point these elections. Mimi shot to fame with her role in the teleserial Gaaner Opare and later acted in several Bengali films. She is from Jalpaiguri in north Bengal and studied English at Ashutosh College, Calcutta. She takes on CPM veteran Bikash Bhattacharya and Anupam Hajra of the BJP in Jadavpur.

The tussle is between Mimi and Bikash. While Mimi has glamour and the well-oiled Trinamul machinery at her service, Bikash, a former Calcutta mayor, has a long and distinguished legal career and has fought several cases, including the protests against the state government on the power grid project in Bhangar, which falls in the Jadavpur constituency.

Jadavpur is one of the CPM’s few hopes in Bengal, though Trinamul feels Mimi will pull through. Jadavpur had elected Trinamul’s Sugata Bose in the last Lok Sabha elections.

From Tollygunge to Baruipur, a direction in which the city is forever spreading, the Jadavpur constituency is a combination of urban, semi-urban and rural areas. Water supply is a problem almost throughout the constituency, as is the filling up of water bodies, and drainage. Areas like wards 105 and 106, which Mimi visited on Thursday, are regarded as hotspots of water bodies filled up for construction.

Then there’s the road-versus-drainage problem. What Mousumi Saha pointed out of her Haltu neighbourhood is true of extensive areas in the constituency. Since the Trinamul came to power in the state, roads have been built. But as in Haltu, so in Sonarpur or Baruipur. A resident of Kodalia Subhas Park in Subhasgram pointed out that the roads built on a higher level than the adjoining ground prevents drainage. The waterlogging lasts for days after a spell of rain, leading not only to problems of movement and transport but also health hazards like breeding of mosquitoes and diarrhoea. The same problem persists in neighbouring Mallikpur and Narendrapur.

But such is Mimi’s charm that Amit Jana, who works at a biryani shop at Ramlal Bazar in Haltu, said that his area did not have any problem. Or maybe it is just cynicism about the electoral process.

I wanted to ask Mimi about her political roadmap and what she plans to do about these problems. I had been promised a 30-minute interview.

As her roadshow ended at Ward No. 106, I was asked to “interview” her as she hopped from the jeep to her car. Since I estimated that it would take about three seconds for her to make the shift, I asked for an interview later. It did not happen.

So the questions remain unanswered. She has disappointed other audiences similarly. Residents of Subhasgram, too, where Mimi attended meetings from stage also complained that she hardly spoke at the meetings there.

Picture by Gautam Bose

Bikash Bhattacharya, the CPM candidate for Jadavpur, addressed a street corner in front of a housing complex near Ajaynagar off EM Bypass on Sunday evening where he attacked both the Trinamul and the BJP for demolishing democracy in the state and the country respectively. After the meeting, Bhattacharya said that he was taking part in street corners in front of housing complexes in the area as they have their own rules and regulations, which prevent parties from carrying out election campaigning inside the premises. “I am getting overwhelming response as people want to get rid of both the Trinamul and the BJP,” said Bhattacharya.