‘Didi’ Bets On ‘Didi No.1’ Star To Woo Women Voters Amid Sandeshkhali Row

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'Didi' Bets On 'Didi No.1' Star To Woo Women Voters Amid Sandeshkhali Row

Rachna Banerjee has been fielded by the Trinamool Congress from Hooghly seat. PTI

New Delhi:

If there was an award for glitz quotient in announcing Lok Sabha poll candidates, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress would be a clear winner.

While other parties, including the BJP and the Congress, put out lacklustre lists with names of candidates and the seats they were chosen for, Trinamool hosted a gala event in Kolkata’s Brigade ground last weekend to introduce its poll picks.

Ms Banerjee led the parade, waving to the crowd and followed by the party’s 42 candidates for as many Lok Sabha seats in Bengal. Her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, virtually the No.2 in the party, read out the names.

A surprise choice walked right behind the Trinamool chief. It is a face that keeps Bengali women in the state – and outside – hooked to the TV screen for an hour daily. It was Rachna Banerjee.

The 49-year-old, who was born Jhumjhum Banerjee, first made headlines back in 1994, when she was crowned Miss Kolkata. She later went on to star in films across several languages, including Bengali, Odia, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada.

But no film won her the popularity that a TV game show did. ‘Didi No. 1’ was launched in 2010 and interestingly, Rachna Banerjee was not its first anchor. She took over in the second season and then the producers tried other faces too, but none stuck on the way she did. The show has a bit of everything – games, laughter and emotions. Women participants narrate their life struggles, share their happy memories and the anchor balances fun and sentimentality. The result is the longest running Bengali game show ever.

Interestingly, weeks before the Trinamool announced its candidates, Mamata Banerjee starred in a Didi No. 1 episode. At the time, few people had thought that Rachna Banerjee would be the Trinamool’s poll pick.

The celebrity candidate has been fielded from Hooghly, a suburban seat near Kolkata. She is up against a former colleague and actor-turned-politician, BJP’s Locket Chatterjee. Ms Chatterjee is sitting MP from Hooghly.

Trinamool’s choice of Rachna Banerjee also needs to be seen against the backdrop of the mood of this election.

The biggest political talking point in Bengal right now is Sandeshkhali. An island in North 24 Parganas district, Sandeshkhali has made headlines after its residents accused local Trinamool leaders of land grab, extortion and sexual harassment. While Trinamool has expelled its local strongman Sheikh Shahjahan, now in CBI’s custody in connection with a mob attack case, the Oppositon BJP has left no stone unturned in its efforts to paint the Mamata Banerjee government “anti-women”. Over the past decade, the Trinamool chief has cultivated a formidable support base among women through schemes like Kanyashree, Rupashree and Lakshmir Bhandar. That is now under threat.

This is where Rachna Banerjee comes in. Yes, she is a celebrity, but her audience cuts across the urban-rural divide and spans age groups.

As someone who has repeatedly propped up actors as its poll picks, Ms Banerjee is well aware that the glitz advantage comes at a cost. Outgoing MPs Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan pulled off stunning wins in the 2019 election, but the party had to tackle the side-effects too. Nusrat Jahan, for example, drew fire for posting a clip of her Valentine’s Day celebrations at the peak of the Sandeshkhali row. This prompted rivals to target the Trinamool, accusing it of propping up candidates not invested in politics.

But the strategy has paid off for Ms Banerjee so far. Hence, the former celebrity picks have made way for new ones. But with Rachana Banerjee, Trinamool is looking to reach out to a far wider demographic than it has earlier done. Unlike Mimi Chakraborty, Nusrat Jahan or actor Dev – who has been repeated as a candidate this time – Rachna comes on TV daily. Her audience spans across economic classes and both urban and rural belts.

But there is a sea of difference between a TV studio and the poll arena. Rachana Banerjee knows there are no retakes here. In a recent interview, she has said the shooting of Didi No 1 may face disruptions over the next couple of months. “I will be campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls. But I will come and shoot at night,” she said. Then came the big question: why politics?

“We need power and a platform to work for people, and there is no bigger platform than this,” she said.

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