Both have Bollywood links, both trumped career politicians in their debut polls, both are seeking re-election and both are outsiders. The parellels between Moonmoon Sen, actor, and Babul Surpiyo, singer, battling it out in the Asansol constituency, however, end there.
Despite having sensationally defeated nine-time Left MP Basudeb Acharia in Bankura in 2014, Sen was, rather mysteriously, shunted out to Asansol. The quintessential star and hardly a political animal, Sen has created quite a flutter, not all flattering, by her appeal to vote for her for the sake of her mother, Bengali cinema heartthrob Suchitra Sen.
Supriyo, a Union minister, on the other hand, is a far cry from the star who had serenaded Asansol in 2014 with the song Kaho na pyar hai. He is making sharp political points at his rallies and training his guns on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Sen’s campaign is being overseen by state minister Arup Biswas. Supriyo is largely his own general.
But, essentially, Supriyo’s contest is with the Trinamool organisation spearheaded by Biswas and hamstrung by factional fights, particularly between Moloy Ghatak, an MLA from Asansol Uttar, and Jitender Tiwary, the Pandabeswar MLA. In fact, conspiracy theorists say Sen was fielded partly to tide over the feud that had cost the party dearly in 2014 when trade union leader Dola Sen’s (now a Rajya Sabha MP) defeat was widely attributed to sabotage by Ghatak, who wanted a ticket.
“This is Didi’s tested formula, of fielding film stars in seats with factions. In Jadavpur there is a fight between Kaiser Ahmed and Arabul Islam, so actor Mimi Chakraborty was fielded,” says a party insider.
Biswas brushes aside criticism about Sen being an outsider. “Babul’s permanent address is in Delhi. She (Sen) will win by 1-1.5 lakh votes,” he told The Indian Express.
However, a 2014-like situation may still emerge as there is widespread perception that Tiwary may still damage the party’s prospects.
Sen’s candidature has not gone down well with some Trinamool voters too. “The BJP has fielded a better candidate. I did vote for the party in 2014 too… This time I would not have voted for them but one does have to look at the candidate,” says a trader.
There is fair amount of support for Left candidate Gourango Chatterjee too, after alleged Trinamool goons landed him in hospital.
The seat’s 20 per cent Muslim voters though will stand steadfast with Mamata, with the CM charged by the other side of blatant appeasement to woo them over.
Babul, who claims in his speeches that the Trinamool government “takes hafta even from fuchka sellers”, is reaping the benefits of all this. “Modi is not a politician, he is a social worker. It is not a question of one election, this is about the country. Have you seen the situation in West Bengal, the goondaraj?” asks a hotel owner in Asansol, originally from Punjab.
The Hindu polarisation in these parts, with a substantial non-Bengali voter base, doesn’t hurt. In Pandabeswar last week, as Supriyo’s carcade drove by, mothers urged babies to greet the guests with “Jai Shri Ram”.
Campaigning in the remote hamlet of Jemua, dominated by Muslims, Supriyo insists that he has “never played the communal card”.
He also claims the NDA government’s push for a Uniform Civil Code had earned it even Muslim support. “As it is, we are a patriarchal society. On top of that, a man is allowed to divorce over SMS or WhatsApp… Abolishing this makes society more progressive,” he said, blaming the Trinamool government for communal politics instead. “Nearly 25,000 Durga Puja clubs received Rs 10,000 each. Who gave her (Banerjee) permission to use public money for Durga Puja? She is buying votes.”
Supriyo reiterated the BJP charge that the Trinamool is trying to retain hold over Bengal with violence. “This is a rogue government run by a cruel CM. There is a Trinamool reign of terror, that is why the yearning for Central forces.”
The violence is different from the CPM’s time, he added. “The CPM sheltered goons. Didi has asked goondas to become leaders.”
On his rival Moonmoon Sen, Supriyo said, “It is deplorable… She is asking for votes in the name of her mother’s atma (soul). What about the living atmas?”