The stars have descended on earth — on the electoral turf in Bengal, to be precise. And this time, Tollywood is divided like never before.
The obsession of political parties — mainly the Trinamool Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left Front in the past few elections – with ‘glamour’ and fielding celebrities is not new in Bengal. But this time a significant number of Tollywood faces have noticeably gravitated towards the saffron camp.
But why do politicians believe that celebrities could be a ‘game changer’ for a party in the electoral arena?
Many believe that fielding stars helps political parties avoid internal rift among factions vying for tickets.
Speaking to News18, political expert Kapil Thakur said, “We have seen how political parties lost battles in strongholds due to internal rift. If a party gives a ticket to one faction, another group will revolt. Therefore, fielding celebrities is a well-planned, balanced strategy to reduce the tension between the two groups in the party. It’s like brushing the discontent under the carpet. Not only that; it is certainly easier for any party to get maximum attention through celebrities because of their popularity among the masses. They have a huge fan following and it actually works.”
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Tollywood stars Nusrat Jahan and Mimi Chakraborty fielded by the Trinamool Congress won despite zero experience in politics, Thakur pointed out.
“But I have an objection here. We have witnessed that most of the celebrities take advantage of the political waves before joining any party. They always prefer to be with the powerful lobby/party rather than going against the wave. Everyone has the right to contest elections but it is also true that the same celebrities (before showing their inclination towards any political parties) keep themselves away from burning issues. Their intention should be very important here and they should not look like ‘sukher pakhi’ (a bird of comfort),” he added.
When asked to elaborate, he said, “It’s simple. Look at Mithun Chakraborty. He may impress people with his filmy dialogues but the fact is he always changes his ideology as per his convenience. From Naxals to BJP and what else; do I need to clarify here? He joined the BJP for his own interest.”
In the run-up to the assembly elections, celebrities help political parties create a public perception about which way the wind is blowing.
Till last year, the TMC managed to prevent celebrities from straying into the BJP camp despite the saffron party top leadership’s efforts to woo Indian classical singer Rashid Khan, Sarod maestro Tejendra Majumdar, actor Soumitra Chatterjee and classical singer Pt Ajoy Chakraborty.
But in the past few months, many celebrities and film stars in Bengal like Tanushree Chakraborty, Yash Dasgupta, Hiren Chatterjee, Rahul Chakraborty, Debashree Bhattacharya, Mithun Chakraborty, cricketer Ashok Dinda, etc, have joined the BJP and helped the saffron party generate the impression that it is not an outsider and is the only alternative to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool in the state.
“It’s a dream come true as I always wanted to work for the people. This is a golden opportunity for me to serve the people,” Tanushree Chakraborty, who joined the BJP, said.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh had said that all are welcome in the party but they have to fulfil the expectations of the people.
With the induction of celebrities, the BJP is trying to catch the imagination and attention of a larger section of society, irrespective of caste, creed and religion.
Mamata Banerjee, who is fond of Bengali television shows, too has deployed a team of celebrities to counter the BJP’s ‘glam forces’.
Recently, she announced the names of Tollywood actors Saayoni Ghosh, June Malia, and Sayantika Banerjee as TMC candidates from the Asansol South, Medinipur, and Bankura constituencies respectively.
It was a well-crafted strategy of Mamata, considering internal feud in the party, to field celebrities from these assembly seats that saw an exponential growth by the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Similarly, fielding film director Raj Chakraborty from the Barrackpore assembly constituency is also a tactical move to counter the saffron party’s strong presence in the area due to the presence of BJP MP Arjun Singh. Singh was once close to Mamata but quit the TMC after he was not given a Lok Sabha ticket in 2019; instead Mamata gave the ticket to Dinesh Trivedi. Trivedi too recently joined the BJP.
TMC MLA from Barrackpore Shilbhadra Dutta too joined the BJP, making the constituency extremely difficult to recapture for Trinamool due to internal dissension.
Fielding actor Kanchan Mullick from Uttarpara is also a strategic step by the TMC to handle the factional feud in Hooghly district.
“See, I have inducted many young and new faces in the party. Khela hobe (game on),” Mamata said while announcing the names of the stars as TMC candidates.
Actor Koushani Mukherjee also joined the Trinamool Congress and she has been fielded from Krishnanagar North in the Nadia district. Other celebrities who have joined Mamata’s team include folk singer Aditi Munshi, Adivasi singer Beerbaha Hansda and cricketer Manoj Tiwary.
While Munshi is contesting from Rajarhat-Gopalpur in the North 24 Parganas, Hansda is in the fray from the Jhargram seat in Jangalmahal and Tiwary is contesting from his hometown Shibpur in Howrah district. In all the three seats, the BJP has a strong presence and therefore star candidates were fielded by the TMC to tackle internal rift.
On his candidature from the ‘tough’ Barrackpore seat, Raj Chakraborty said, “I would like to request all not to consider me a celebrity. I am like any other candidate and I am confident of winning the Barrackpore seat because I grew up in that area. My house is in Halisahar and I did my college from Naihati, so I know the area well. I would like to thank Didi (Mamata) for having trust in me. I accepted this challenge and people will certainly stand beside me.”
Reacting to Chakraborty’s candidature from Barrackpore, BJP MP Arjun Singh said, “In Barrackpore, people usually don’t get carried away by celebrities. I have full faith in the people in my constituency and this time also they will vote for the BJP.”
Sayantika Banerjee is contesting from Bankura, which went to Congress candidate Daripa Shampa in 2016. “I have been working with Didi for a long time. Recently, I officially joined the party and accepted the challenge which she has given me to contest from Bankura. I have my plan ready to understand the core issues of the area and I believe that the people in Bankura will consider me as their own daughter. I don’t believe in talking too much. I am a workaholic and I will continue to work for the people,” Sayantika said.
When asked if it would be possible for her as a celebrity to campaign in the Bankura heat, she said, “Many don’t know that I am a kickboxer and I am very rough and tough. Accepting challenges is in my DNA.”
Saayoni Ghosh (contesting from Asansol seat), June Maliah (Midnapore) and Kanchan Mullick (Uttarpara) termed themselves ‘Didir Doot’ (messengers of Mamata).
They expressed confidence of securing their respective seats for the TMC and pledged to work hard for the development of their constituencies. “We all will fight in a good spirit and we will give our best to strengthen the TMC in this poll,” said Saayoni.
In the past also, actors Tapas Pal, Moonmoon Sen, Satabdi Roy, Chiranjeet Chakraborty, Sandhya Roy, Dev, Deboshree Roy, etc, have contested on a TMC ticket. Most of them succeeded in winning their respective seats and helped the TMC secure a second term in 2016.
Interestingly, the Left Front, known for having a more conservative view towards the glamour world, too, has had a history of fielding celebrities.
In 1996, the CPI (M) fielded actor Anup Kumar (real name was Satyen Das) for the assembly election from the Cossipore seat. However, he could not get enough support and the CPI (M) lost the seat.
In 1993, the party backed independent candidate Anil Chatterjee who won the by-election from the Chowringhee assembly constituency. He was one of the very few actors who worked with legendary Bengali directors Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha and Mrinal Sen.