Mamata Banerjee’s gambit of fielding celebrities has drawn in the crowds, earned ridicule from her rivals and thrilled the celebrity candidates themselves.
Actor Deepak Adhikary, popularly known as Dev, has drawn crowds second only to Mamata’s at rallies for various Trinamool Congress candidates. Last week he travelled through his own constituency, Ghatal, sitting atop the driver’s cabin of his van as fans cheered at seeing him up close.
“These roadshows are more about meeting my fans than being political rallies. I don’t get to go to these rural areas generally and as a candidate, I have made it a point to go to some places where other candidates hardly go,” he says. He has noted the poor roads and says those will be his priority if he wins.
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His Congress rival, Manas Bhuniya, dismisses the challenge. Asked if he considers Dev a threat, he says he considers none of the candidates that. And the CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta, the sitting MP, refuses to even comment on Dev’s “star power”.
In Medinipur, actress Sandhya Roy is optimistic about her battle against sitting CPI MP Prabodh Panda. “The feelers I am getting are very positive. I am new to politics and have come here only on the insistence of Mamata Banerjee,” she says.
Panda notes Roy hasn’t made any public speech about issues in Medinipur. “These non-political people are set to bring down the standard of Parliament,” he says.
In Bankura its Moon Moon Sen, challenging nine-time MP Basudeb Acharia. The CPM MP, who defeated Trinamool veteran Subrata Mukherjee in 2009, sees no threat from the actress. “People go to Moon Moon Sen’s rallies just to see her. They are wise enough to know whom to vote for,” he says.
Moon Moon has held three roadshows and attended several party workshops and says her key issues will be water and roads.
Asked if politics makes her feel like a fish out of water, she says, “Not at all. The people are the same, the troubles are the same, star tantrums are the same.”
She explains how all this came about. “During my mother’s illness Mamata Banerjee used to visit the hospital every evening. When she said she wanted me to join politics I was taken aback. My husband and daughters encouraged me and I decided to take the plunge.”
Having left films for her mother, she agrees the late Suchitra Sen wouldn’t have approved of her taking up politics either.
Moon Moon herself is said to have discouraged daughter Raima from marrying a politician. “I told her if she married him she would end up becoming his personal secretary,” she says.
Now Raima and Riya, Moon Moon’s other daughter, have been accompanying their mother at her rallies. Asked about joining politics, Raima says, “It is too early at the moment but sometime later, why not?”