From campaigning on a boat in the Hooghly river to a sit-in against atrocities on women. From helping Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates such as Swapan Dasgupta canvass in Hooghly district to frying aloo chop with unemployed youngsters to protest against lack of industries. Locket Chatterjee, 46, has a long to-do list. This election season, she is working tirelessly to reinforce her position as the BJP’s woman face in West Bengal.
A former actress in the Bengali cinema industry, Chatterjee shifted to the BJP from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in 2015. Four years later, she pulled a surprise by winning the Hooghly Lok Sabha constituency for the BJP for the first time, defeating TMC parliamentarian Ratna De, who had held the seat for a decade.
In the 2021 assembly elections, Chatterjee has been fielded from Hooghly’s Chunchura constituency. But she is putting her efforts across all 18 seats in the district that go to polls in the third and fourth rounds of the eight-phase elections; the area is considered a TMC stronghold.
“In all 18 seats of Hooghly, we will sweep. The TMC will not win even one seat here,” Chatterjee told News18 in an interview in Chunchura on Friday. She launched a sharp criticism of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s pitch that “Bengal wants its own daughter”, asking if she was the only daughter of the state. “Despite being a woman chief minister, Banerjee has done nothing for women’s safety. Bengal is foremost in torture and trafficking of women. Banerjee points to other states, but she should look at her own state first. Bengal’s women made her the CM in 2011 and 2016 because they wanted parivartan (change). They thought it would be the best for them if there was a woman chief minister. But in 2021, one can see, no woman in West Bengal is safe,” Chatterjee said.
‘A fight to the finish’
Chatterjee said women’s safety was the biggest issue. “The women of Bengal have been tortured the most under Mamata’s government. Now, they will come out and answer through EVMs (electronic voting machines). Women in Nandigram have yesterday (April 1) ensured that Mamata will lose from there,” Chatterjee told News18, referring to the high-profile seat where the CM is contesting against her lieutenant-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari.“There is Maa Durga, there is Maa Kali in every house. Mamata says she is a lioness, but all our women are lionesses,” Chatterjee said.
Apart from Chatterjee, the BJP has fielded three other MPs — Swapan Dasgupta, Babul Supriyo and Nisith Pramanik — in the assembly polls. The move has triggered speculation that they could be considered for the CM’s post if the BJP wins. “The party gave me direction to contest (an assembly seat)…and the party has a strategy. This is a fight to the finish to remove the Mamata government…hence, we all are fighting it together. We are not fighting the election in West Bengal for the chief minister’s chair but (we are fighting it) against corruption. We are a big party and we will decide (on CM) after the win on May 2,” Chatterjee said when asked if she was a CM probable.
The TMC won 16 of the 18 seats in Hooghly district in the 2016 assembly elections. In the 2019 national elections, the BJP got leads in eight of these 18 assembly segments, while Chatterjee won the Hooghly Lok Sabha constituency. The BJP is now looking to better its performance. In Chunchura, Chatterjee is up against Asit Majumdar, the TMC legislator who has retained the seat over the past decade.
One of the major promises of the BJP for Hooghly is to make a big ghat on the banks of the Hooghly river — like those in Varanasi — and have daily aarti there.
In the biggest ghat in Hooghly — Mayur Pankhi Ghat, which has modest facilities — a group of youngsters gathered for a morning dip. They said a grander ghat would be good but what they actually needed was employment. “That is why majority of the youngsters are with the BJP as there is some hope,” an under-graduate student and a first-time voter, Raja Rajvansi, said.
However, many elderly people in Chunchura seemed to be rooting for the TMC and praising what Banerjee had done for the district. “We want communal harmony and peace above all. The BJP would disturb everything here,” a retired government servant, Manindur Kumar Saha, said.
Candidates of the Indian Secular Front (ISF)-Left-Congress alliance, however, could spoil the party for the TMC in seats in Hooghly that have a higher Muslim population — such as Haripal (30%), Khanakul (28%), Champdani (27%), Saptagram (24%) and Jangipara (22%). The last seat in this list is the base of the ISF’s Abbas Siddiqui, a cleric who is running an aggressive campaign against the TMC.