Conches blew, songs dedicated to Didi blared on loudspeakers and flowers rained from balconies. It was Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s first campaign in her constituency, Bhawanipur, which she stormed in 2011.
Her rivals are Deepa Das Munsi, former MP and wife of Congress veteran Priya Ranjan Das Munsi, and the BJP’s Chandra Bose, Netaji Bose’s grand-nephew. The difficulty of their task isn’t simply political, said one resident. “Didi doesn’t have supporters, she has followers. Her party is a cult,” said Kamal Paul, who sculpts Kali idols at Kalighat, across the road from where Mamata lives.
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TMC workers cleared the way for Mamata as she walked briskly through her constituency. Ever the neighborhood Didi, she paused repeatedly, shouting instructions into the microphone: “Party workers in the front and journalist friends up ahead.” Journalists jogged around her, while police officers scampered behind.
“As you all know, I am your candidate. This is my neighborhood and I am sorry I haven’t been able to come here before. Never has Bengal seen such a long election — three months. I have been travelling across the 294 constituencies and there are still some left. I have come here as soon as I could, and I have come here to ask for your blessings.”
Hundreds lined the street, some walking up to her. Others clicked photographs. She entered some houses. Ahead of her, her supporters walked chanting “Don’t vote for the communal, riot-causing BJP” and “Don’t vote for the vishwasghati Congress”.
“No government has worked like we have. In the future, the work we did in four-and-a-half years will be a subject of research internationally,” Mamata said.
Of her rivals, Deepa has said at a rally, “The Left and the Congress have come together. There is no democracy here, the ruling party is corrupt”. And Chandra Bose has said, “In 2011, people voted for change. But they have realised no change really took place.”
A few within the Trinamool, in fact, had cautioned Mamata against contesting this seat — in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP candidate from Kolkata South Tathagata Roy (now Governor of Tripura) led this assembly segment; besides, the Left-Congress together have posed an unexpected challenge. Mamata decided not contesting “would send a wrong message”.
The other camps are far from settled. The Congress-Left had initially wanted former Supreme Court judge Ashok Kumar Ganguly to contest; he refused. Then, the Congress announced P Mishra, before finally settling for Deepa. Meanwhile, a BJP leaders admitted, “Chandra Bose hasn’t been able to find an office in the constituency. Whenever he finds a suitable space, TMC workers convince landowners not to rent it out to us.”