Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal re-election bid will receive a high-profile shot in the arm on Monday, when veteran actor and Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan campaigns for the Chief Minister’s Trinamool Congress during the ongoing Assembly election.
Listed as a ‘star campaigner’, Jaya Bachchan’s presence reinforces the Trinamool’s popular slogan “Bangla nijer mayekay chaye“, or “Bengal wants only its own daughter”, that casts Mamata Banerjee in that role. A Bengali from Jabalpur, she is married to Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who is often referred to as ‘Banglar jamai‘, or the son-in-law of Bengal.
Ms Bachchan – who arrived in Kolkata late Sunday evening – will begin with a campaign for three-time Tollygunge MLA Aroop Biswas, who faces Union Minister Babul Supriyo in defence of his seat.
Jaya Bachchan’s presence also underlines Mamata Banerjee’s strategy to take on a ruthless BJP poll machine – to stitch a pan-India working alliance of non-BJP parties.
An idea also floated – unsuccessfully, because the parties were unable to resolve differences – by Ms Banerjee in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, this time seems different.
Last month Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav threw his hat in that ring when he accused the BJP of spreading “politics of hate (and) confusion and propaganda” in Bengal, said his party “will not allow this conspiracy to succeed”, and that it would campaign for the Trinamool.
The day before that RJD chief Tejashwi Yadav – who came agonisingly close to beating the BJP in Bihar – met Ms Banerjee in Kolkata, and said: “It is our duty to strengthen Mamata didi‘s hands and fight the BJP.”
The Shiv Sena, a long-time ally of the BJP that split over government formation in Maharashtra, has also supported Ms Banerjee; senior leader Sanjay Raut described her as “the real Bengal tigress”.
Sharad Pawar’s NCP, a member of the ruling alliance in Maharashtra, has also expressed support.
The big absentee, of course, is the Congress, which has allied with the Left and promised a three-corner fight in Bengal. In fact, the party’s Rajya Sabha MP from the state – Pradip Bhattacharya – even wrote to Mr Pawar and Tejashwi Yadav asking them to reconsider support.
Undaunted, Ms Banerjee ploughed on, and on Wednesday she wrote again to 10 key opposition leaders – including the Congress’ Sonia Gandhi.
Citing multiple examples – including the controversial new law that gives centre greater power over an elected Delhi government – the Chief Minister suggested non-BJP parties had to unite.
The letter – sent on the eve of polling in Nandigram, where she faced protégé-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari – called for a “united and effective struggle against the BJP’s attacks on democracy and the constitution” and the “presenting a credible alternative to the people of India”.
Bengal’s eight-phase poll is a quarter done; the third phase will be held on Tuesday. The campaign, so far, has been exceptionally vitriolic, with corruption claims and personal attacks freely traded.
The BJP, which has never ruled Bengal, has spent enormous amounts of time and money to change that, while Ms Banerjee is battling to save her once-impregnable citadel.
After Tuesday’s polling, Bengal has four more voting days – April 10, 17, 22, 26 and 29 – before D-Day on May 2 – when the votes will be counted.