West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addresses a public meeting, at Sahaganj in Hooghly district, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (PTI Photo)
Days after chants of “Jai Shri Ram” filled the air around Hooghly’s Dunlop Ground during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally for BJP, it was the turn of “Joy Bangla” chants that reverberated during Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s rally here on Wednesday.
BJP’s saffron flags were replaced with Trinamool’s tricolour flags and the ground buzzed with catchy slogans and songs with beats of traditional musical instruments like maadol, khonjoni, dhaak and dhol. As an enthusiastic crowd indulged in clicking selfies, the political rally looked more of a celebration.
“Ami Didi ke dekhbo bole, aar onar kotha shunbo bole eshechhi (I have come here to see and listen to Didi),” said 45-year-old Jadabi Ghosh, an anganwadi worker, referring to Mamata Banerjee. A resident of Hooghly’s Bora area, Ghosh said that she and her family members were beneficiaries of the state government’s schemes such as widow and old-age pensions.
“Didi sobar jonno kaaj kore, Hindu, Musalman dekhe na (Didi works for everyone, doesn’t discriminate between Hindus and Muslims),” she said as “Ebar Didir Hattrick”– a catchy track – played in the background.
Like Ghosh, 59-year-old Anjan Gupta of Hooghly’s Jirat had come to see Didi. “Earlier, I was a Congress supporter. Later, I switched to TMC when Didi formed the party and have been rooting for her since then.”
Haribilas Bag, a 70-year-old farmer, had come to attend the rally from Singur. Over a decade ago, Mamata’s agitation against Tata Motors’ Nano car factory in Singur had led to her political rise and finally the chief ministership.
Bag said that his brother was a beneficiary of Krishak Bandhu, a farmers’ scheme launched by the TMC government. “I have also applied for the scheme after seeing my brother getting Rs 1,000,” he said.
A group of young boys from Bandel had also come to the rally. As they clicked selfies, one of them – 17-year-old Anirban Bhattacharya, a student of Class 12 student – said: “I am not into politics much. I have come here just to see our chief minister.”
Anirban flashed his cellphone, which he said, he had bought from Rs 10,000 that he had received from the state government to buy a smartphone for online classes in the wake of the Covid pandemic.
The crowd chanted several catchy slogans such as “Jene Gechhe Jonota, Abar Aschhe Mamata (People know that Mamata will win again)” and “Awaaz Uthechhe Bonge, Aamra Didir Songe (a chorus in Bengal, we are with Didi)”.
The slogans complemented the beats of “dhol”. As 26-year-old Arman Ansari played “dhol”, his friends danced. Rajkumar Das and Anil Das, both traditional “dhaakis”, were hired by the party to play dhaaks at the rally. There were also traditional folk dancers, presenting a slice of tribal culture. Draped in bright coloured sarees, with flower-bearing brass pots on their head, they danced to the tune of maadol and khonjoni.
“We are putting our best foot forward in support of Didi,” said Muni Soren, a folk dancer from Hooghly’s Mogra, who was leading one of the groups.
As people trained their phone camera lens on the folk dancers, four men walking on stilts grabbed their attention. Several groups of men surrounded them to click selfies.
Suddenly, with the sound of the CM’s helicopter being audible, their focus shifted to the air and then to the stage.
With “Khela hobe” and “Joy Bangla” slogans, Mamata struck a chord with the audience.
As the CM hit out at the BJP, 28-year-old Ruma Adhikari said, “Amra aabar Didi ke chai (We again want Didi to come to power).” The Mogra resident echoed Mamata: “The prices of gas cylinders and petrol are reaching sky-high. BJP is a party for the rich, not for the poor like us.”
According to Ajay Das, 42, a resident of Rishra, Mamata is the ideal CM candidate. “Where will you get rice and egg curry for Rs 5?” he said when asked why he want TMC to win again.
Echoing him, Mohd Sarfaraz Hussain, who gives tuition classes in Bandel, said Mamata Banerjee has “worked for the masses”. “My students have benefited from Kanyashree and Sabooj Sathi schemes of the Mamata government through which they got money and bicycles…The BJP tries to woo voters on communal lines. But it cannot boost development,” he said.
As thousands of people gathering at the venue, decorated with flags and balloons, residents were overwhelmed. “We have never seen such a big rally before. Now, I have seen both the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister in one week. It’s overwhelming to see such elaborate arrangements with so much police security,” said Sunita Khuswaha, 32, whose house is just 200 metres away from the venue.