Lok Sabha 2019: Why the glitzy side of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool could turn into a dangerous liaison
Two young female actors are nominated by the Trinamool Congress in heavy-duty seats in Bengal. What is the significance of the party's switch from fielding intellectuals to film stars?
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In widely televised broadcasts of Bengal’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee's public programmes, her coterie of colleagues and advisers form various rings around her.
The inner ring comprises close associates while the outer consists of party sympathisers, who may or may not be card-holding members of the party. There is yet another third ring of women around her — young Tollywood (the Bengal film industry that derives its name from Bollywood) stars, tagged as 'jhinku mamonis' (loosely translated as 'flashy women') in — misogynistic — zest. They are seen not just in IPL matches or film festivals but in political rallies as well.
Ever since the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) came to power in Bengal, Banerjee has projected a more populist image that is so different from the intellectual 'bhadrolok' upper caste-type picture of Bengal’s top political leadership since the Communist party came to power in 1977. Even though she is a Brahmin herself, Banerjee does not visibly represent the upper class and castes, typified in the past by leaders such as England-returned barristers-turned-Communist leaders like Somnath Chatterjee, once Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and Jyoti Basu, the longest-serving chief minister of the state.
The star brigade of Tollywood now are young actors who are either transiting from TV serials to the big screen, or are big-screen names like the perennial Shrimati Dev Varma, better known as Moon Moon Sen.
Ms Sen, Shatabdi Roy — a popular actor of the nineties — and a veteran Sandhya Roy have even contested and won seats in the last elections.
Are they ready? Nusrat (L) and Mimi (R) are entrusted with big responsibilities. (Source: Twitter)
This time round, TMC was one of the first of the major political parties to announce candidates for all 42 Lok Sabha seats. “It is a great moment of pride,” Banerjee declared on March 12, adding that while “everyone is talking about 33% reservation for women in Parliament, we have 41% of women contesting this time compared to 35% in the last elections.”
One of the two new young 'star' faces this time is Nusrat Jahan — a favourite of a leading production house in Bengal. She is contesting from a very sensitive area, Basirhat, which is said to have a porous border (with Bangladesh). The other is model-turned-actor Mimi Chakraborty, who is representing a strong constituency in Jadavpur, an erstwhile refugee colony of South Kolkata.
A quick peek into those who have contested polls from these two constituencies in the past will reveal just how important they are.
Basirhat has had a Member of Parliament Ajoy Chakraborty of the Communist Party of India (CPI), five times in a row before he was finally defeated in 2009 by Trinamool leader Nurul Islam. The current incumbent is Idris Ali, also of TMC. Noted parliamentarian Indrajit Gupta of CPI also contested and won from Basirhat in two successive elections in 1980 and 1984.
Somnath Chatterjee; Buddhadeb Bhattacharya; Sugata Bose; Jadavpur has been represented by erudite names. (Source: Reuters/IndiaToday.in)
Jadavpur has over the years been represented by heavyweights, including the CM herself. Ms Banerjee, as an earlier Indian National Congress member, had wrested the seat from Somnath Chatterjee in 1984. Among others were Buddhadeb Bhattacharya who was the CM after Basu, singer Kabir Suman, professor Malini Bhattacharya, Krishna Bose, wife of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s nephew, and presently her son, Harvard professor Sugata Bose.
In this array of erudite names come these two young stars, synonymous, in my view, with less substance and more glitter.
Leave alone politics, they do not have any history of community work even.
Unlike the South, especially Tamil Nadu, popular actors as leaders were once unthinkable in Bengal.
Politics and the film industry were two separate entities — though the IPTA formed a sort of bridge in leftist politics. During the CPM's reign, art house directors, like Gautam Ghosh, Buddhadev Dasgupta, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen before that, were all Left sympathisers, and so were well-known theatre directors. With several of today’s directors gradually deflecting to the TMC, we suddenly have the CM doling out several awards to industry people apparently in order to win them over.
While traditional print has been more circumspect regarding these two new entrants to politics today, social media has exploded with comments and tweets.
Some observers point out that they are being targeted not because they are women but that given their career, it would be difficult to do any real justice to their responsibilities.
Moon Moon Sen will now contest from Asansol, where Babul Supriyo is retained by the BJP after his victory last time. (Source: Twitter)
Achievements of politicians who hail from the entertainment industry also merit a separate commentary. But in Bengal, it seems they are here to stay — in my view, this indicates a massive trivialisation of politics. Ms Sen has been removed from her old constituency in Bankura to a more important one in Asansol — from where singer Babul Supriyo had won the last time around, and has been retained by the BJP. Incidentally, two actors, Rupa Ganguly and Locket Chatterjee, are also the Tolly faces for the BJP.
One message from all of this perhaps is what Mamata stands for — hard work and not a 'fancy' degree — but what is of concern to many in Bengal is that such nominees are mere puppets, without a strong mind of their own.
For someone like Moon Moon, getting into politics was like re-inventing her career. But one can only hope that for Nusrat and Mimi, who are at the peak of their careers, it does not signify an end to their chosen calling. Surviving in politics is tough. And, at the end of it all, it could well become a case of neither here, nor there — a valuable lesson can be drawn from their male counterpart, Dev. Till recently the biggest face in commercial cinema, once he won from his own constituency, Ghatal in West Medinipur, he has had a series of flops. His admirers may point out that there is no connection between the two. Yet, an uncomfortable thought lingers.
While voters may look forward to shaking hands with their favourite stars in their backyard, this visibility can also shatter the ‘reel image’ of these stars of dreams.
That, in the long run, will be hard for the stars — not the voters — to reconcile with.