West Bengal has given India many things, says Abhisekh Banerjee. A president, a cricket captain, a Chief Justice of India and a Nobel laureate. What the state hasn’t given is a prime minister. Now is the opportunity to do that, says Abhisekh, nephew of Mamata Banerjee, as he addresses an election rally in a village in South 24-Parganas. So far, Abhisekh has stuck to the central theme of the Trinamool Congress this election – “Didi for Delhi”.
Making his debut from the Diamond Harbour seat, Abhisekh, 26, is the youngest Trinamool candidate. “More than my win, it’s important that Mamata Banerjee is elevated to national politics. If Gujarat with four crore-plus voters can have a prime ministerial candidate, if the six crore-plus voters in Tamil Nadu can pitch for Jayalalithaa, why can’t Bengal, with its over 10 crore voters, aspire for the PM slot?” Abhisekh goes on to explain how “prime minister Mamata” will compensate for the “neglect and deprivation” of successive central governments. The crowd, many of them young Muslims, cheers.
Abhisekh has had a relatively easy start on his debut. While Mamata is at pains to stress that she isn’t pampering her nephew, on the ground, the power structure is evident. “In all seven assembly segments that constitute Diamond Harbour seat, the unwritten and unspoken message is that Didi’s nephew has to win with a handsome margin. If any assembly segment fails to do that, it will come under Mamata’s scrutiny,” says a party worker at an election rally.
A host of local MLAs, councillors and even senior leaders such as general secretary Partha Chatterjee and Kolkata mayor Sovan Chattopadhyay turn up for Abhisekh’s campaign rallies. The message they all send out is that Abhisekh has Mamata’s “blessings”. Chattopadhyay recounts how, as a child, “Abhisekh spent hours by Mamata’s bedside, tending to her when she was recovering from an attack by CPM workers in August 1990.”
Diamond Harbour, which goes to the polls on May 12, has over 30 per cent Muslim votes and the Trinamool hopes to win them. All the seven assembly segments now have Trinamool MLAs. Significant among these is Satgatchia, which in the 1980s and 1990s used to be a pocket borough of Jyoti Basu. It has now turned into a Trinamool Congress bastion.
But on a roadshow, Abhisekh comes across hostile voters who heckle him over the lack of drinking water in their villages. They say they survive on water from ponds and that the women have to trek two or three kilometres every day to fetch water. Sonali Guha, a Trinamool MLA, says, “Everything will be taken care of, just let the polls pass.” The protesters look unconvinced and unfurl banners that say ‘Vote boycott’.
It’s this anger that the CPM hopes to capitalise on. The party nominee from this seat, Dr Abul Hasnat, is a popular medical practitioner who treats his patients free. Infighting in the Trinamool and the rise of the BJP make him optimistic about making a match of it.