I recently attended two political rallies of the candidates from the Jadavpur constituency—Sugata Bose of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Sujan Chakraborty of the Communist Party of India, Marxists (CPM)—while working on a story I did for Mint Lounge.
Chakraborty’s was a small padayatra—fewer campaigners and more intimate in feel—on a Tuesday morning in the rural areas of Boral near Sonarpur. Bose’s was a grand affair with thousands of supporters cheering the Harvard historian and grandson of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Dhakis beat the drum as they led Bose, standing on a hoodless jeep and waving at crowds, through the urban neighbourhood of Santoshpur, Jadavpur and Garfa. Each provided me with a different experience and together they gave me a more holistic picture of India’s democratic system.
Chakraborty, who has already been an MP from the constituency once and has been in politics for a long time now, was patronising in his interactions with the people, who are largely rural and poor. He patted the heads of young boys, pulled the cheeks of school-goers and gave patronising nods to everyone. “Dekha kore gelam (I came to call on you)” was all he said while his supporters shouted slogans against Mamata Banerjee and her governance.
Bose was well prepared. Using the public address system, he made small and impromptu speeches wherever he was greeted by the waiting crowds. He brought in the references of his mother Krishna Bose, who was elected thrice from the constituency, and Mamata Banerjee, who defeated veteran CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee from there, but also promised, in his poetic language, a new dawn. He told people why it is important for a third front to form the government at the Centre.
Chakraborty made no promises. When asked, he said his only promise to the people was that he would be by their side all the time.
The TMC rally had brought the traffic on the Santoshpur Avenue to a complete standstill. None of the party workers seemed remotely apologetic. It was Bose who made his apologies known to the commuters. He addressed the stranded people, from a harried couple in a car to a physically challenged man in a cycle-rickshaw, and apologised to them for the inconvenience his rally caused.
Bose and Chakraborty walk very fast. Bose’s car broke down twice but he more than made up for it by his brisk walking. I asked him towards the end of the rally if he was exhausted. “No,” he said adding that it’s as good as walking in the gym. On the contrary it was helping him get over his jet lag, he said. The same morning he’d arrived from Harvard. He also asked me if I was exhausted. “No, of course not! I like walking,” I said. I did not tell him that the walk helped me make up for missing my swim that evening.
Bose was kind enough to enquire about my exhaustion, Chakraborty was very thoughtful to ask if we (photographer and I) had a transport to get back home. “No,” we said. “Doesn’t matter, there are plenty of autos plying from here,” he replied.
Both leaders, like true politicians, joined their palms before everyone, class no bar—one of those times when the public is god. No compromise on that. Both of them sought ashirvad (blessings) from the people.
Ma and bonera, mothers and sisters, are central to an election campaign. “Koi amader ma bonera kothai ache? Baire berote bol (where are our mothers and sisters, ask them to come out),” Chakraborty’s supporters who were at the forefront of the rally told each other.
Postscript: Having walked through both rural and urban Bengal at different times of the day, three-four hours each time, I can conclude with some authority that the national costume of the women in Bengal is the maxi/nightie, teamed with an orna/dupatta when greeting visitors.