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Leading ladies

shreevatsa nevatia | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on February 20, 2015

leadingladies   -  PTI

Roopa Ganguly and Locket Chatterjee inadvertently entered politics because of Mamata Banerjee, today they have joined the BJP in its battle against her

The past fortnight has not been easy for the West Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There was little time to lick the wounds of a 67-3 rout in distant Delhi. With a bypoll scheduled in the state’s Krishnaganj assembly seat and Bongaon Lok Sabha constituency on February 13, the party needed to put its best foot (or at least its best face) forward. For that, it literally seemed to have hitched its wagon to a star or two. Earlier last week, Roopa Ganguly was seen campaigning on Bongaon’s roads for the BJP, while fellow actor Locket Chatterjee rode through Krishnaganj in an open jeep, wearing blazing saffron. Colour apart, these familiar personalities helped give the state unit much-needed visibility.

Though their party has now lost both bypoll battles to Mamata Banerjee’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), Ganguly claims that her visit to these parts has motivated her. “In Bongaon, at least a hundred people told me that they were beaten and made to stay home. They were denied their basic voting rights. The electorate is scared, but sections of society have begun speaking out. I’m certain that when assembly elections come around in 2016, the BJP will enjoy huge support.”

Locket Chatterjee sounds equally optimistic: “It was impossible to think then [in the assembly elections of 2011] that the BJP will make the inroads that it has. Just look at the party’s performance in the Lok Sabha elections! I’d compare Bengal to a drifter who floats aimlessly on an open sea. I think the BJP is our one real island of opportunity.”

Ganguly began her political career when Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley handed her a BJP flag on January 7 this year, but Chatterjee’s induction into the party on February 6 wasn’t quite her first initiation. In February 2013, the actor had entered the TMC family after Didi treated her to dosa and coffee in the Writer’s Building canteen. The star of popular Bengali films, such as Bye Bye Bangkok and Streetlight, was also made a member of the State Commission for Women. A year later, Chatterjee seems disillusioned and a touch embittered. “As a member of the women’s commission, I regularly saw untoward incidents being reported on a near-daily basis. Even when I tried to take a step, I wasn’t allowed to. Protest was impossible because there was no one to take one’s protest to. I registered my dissent when I resigned from the party and the commission.” Mamata Banerjee, says Chatterjee, was almost always inaccessible. “I tried hard to tell her my grievances, but I never got a satisfactory reply.”

Political ideology apart, there is much that binds Ganguly and Chatterjee. They are both household names in Kolkata. They are both in their 40s (Ganguly is 48; Chatterjee is 41), and it was Banerjee who inadvertently propelled them into politics. “I got into politics because of her,” says Ganguly, “because of her whims, her behaviour and her cheap populism.” She blames the 34-year-long communist rule for “the rotten state of our education and primary healthcare systems,” but their follies, she says, hardly compare to those of the TMC. “This party has corrupted the moral fabric of Bengal. The Saradha chit fund scam is unacceptable.” Chatterjee adds that the Saradha scam has even vitiated the mood in Tollywood, Kolkata’s film industry. “Today people can be heard casually saying — ‘I hope you haven’t taken any Saradha money’. There is fear and a deep mistrust, which is altogether new.”

Ganguly and Chatterjee agree that ever since Banerjee came to power in 2011, the Bengal film industry has witnessed a sharp increase in political favouritism. “People not affiliated with the TMC have seen themselves out of work for the past three and a half years,” rues Chatterjee. Often mocked for their lack of political acumen, celebrities sometimes carry with them a heavy burden of expectation. Ganguly and Chatterjee seem to differ on the benefits of fame. For Chatterjee, an entertained audience often translates into a trusting electorate. Ganguly, however, doesn’t quite condone the idea of ‘celebrities’ becoming politicians. “Just being a celebrity cannot be motivation enough. If a politician takes a year to succeed, it would take me four. I would need to prove myself more. Only grey matter helps you win the final test.”

Known to many in the country for her portrayal of Draupadi in the 1988 television adaptation of the Mahabharat, Ganguly demonstrated a more radical candour in later years. In 2009, she appeared on the TV show Sach ka Saamna and fielded questions about her estranged husband and extra-marital affairs. When asked if such honesty was antithetical to earlier stereotypes of politicians, the actor said, “Twenty years ago, things might have been difficult. Today’s generation is more aware and they are well past that stage of moral prudery.”

For these progressive entrants into the BJP, the question of conservatism can sometimes seem more fundamental. How do they, for instance, react to BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj’s four-children diktat to women? “We live in a modern world and no one can defend such a statement. This kind of orthodoxy cannot be in step with development. Nor can communalism,” insists Chatterjee. The BJP surely benefits when stars, well-versed with its script already, deliver the party line so deftly. And with a batting of the eyelashes.



Published on February 20, 2015
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