One of the most prestigious constituencies of Kolkata, Jadavpur has always seen parties fielding popular leaders and party heavyweights for this Lok Sabha constituency. This was the very place from where the current West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee defeated Somnath Chatterjee, stalwart of the CPI(M), in 1984. Indeed, the constituency has seen many high profile and celebrated MPs, the most recent being Harvard historian Sugato Bose, who won the seat in 2014.
In the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Mamata Banerjee surprised everyone by declaring that local Tollywood star, Mimi Chakraborty would get the much coveted TMC ticket from Jadavpur. Hailing originally from Jalpaiguri in North Bengal, Chakraborty, a political debutante has been seen in many popular Bengali TV serials and a bunch of films. The fact that she has quite a huge fan-base is apparent from her social media handles — more than 4.6 million followers on Facebook, 6.9 lakh followers on Twitter and 1.6 million followers on Instagram.
Mimi’s interactions with the people so far have largely resembled what any popular film star’s meeting with adoring fans would look like. On this particular trail through her constituency, atop an open-hooded jeep, the actor-turned-politician kept waving and smiling at a sea of onlookers, most of whom seemed to be least interested in what she had to say but more so in clicking selfies with her.
In the midst of all this, we caught up with the 30-year-old candidate for a quick chat. Excerpts:
This is the first time you are in the poll fray, that too on a Trinamool ticket. Your constituency is Jadavpur, which has an interesting history. As opponents you have heavyweights like Anupam Hazra of BJP (who was a TMC politician until recently) and Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya of CPM. What is your overall take on your constituency and the particular issues that it faces?
When you join active politics and decide to fight in the elections, whether you are a youth or whether you have another background doesn’t matter. When you get into politics, you have a lot of things to focus on. At the end of the day, whether you are a veteran or a debutant, whether you are young or old, matters less than what you can actually do for the people. It never depends on your age or anything else. It always depends on what you want to do for your people. If you know what your people want and sincerely reach out to them, communicate with them, only then will the voters trust you.
I have been campaigning extensively across my constituency for the last two months. I have been to each lane and bylane, speaking to people, interacting with them and trying to understand what they want. There are definitely a lot of things in my priority list, but as I am not allowed by the Election Commission to give any assurance to the media on what my prospects after winning the elections will be, I won’t be able to discuss these issues with you. I can assure you that my priority list is sorted. I know what to do and where to start. I know the issues because I have directly learned about them from the people.
From your interaction with voters so far, what do you see as the most important area in the Jadavpur constituency in particular that need attention?
The major issue is water scarcity. In fact, water scarcity is one of the prime issues across most cities across India. Wherever I visit my constituency, the common feedback is that there is difficulty in getting access to drinking water. You know, the underground water level is receding and that results in water scarcity. So a lot of corrective measures have been already taken by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in the state. There are projects which have been launched in Sonarpur and Baruipur. Not just cities, even interiors of our villages suffer from water shortage. I have seen farmers having to walk a lot to get drinking water. So, I definitely want to take care of such issues and make a difference.
You have a very busy and successful career that is completely detached from politics and nation-building. Yet both are time intensive careers if you really want to make an impact. Many celebrity candidates have been seen to have very poor attendance and engagement on the floor of the House or even in their constituencies. How will you balance your legislative work and your career in films?
Let the 23rd of May come and time will give you all answers.
As a woman, what is your evaluation of the safety issues for women in your constituency? How safe do you feel as a woman in today’s Bengal?
Definitely, I feel very safe in the city. The law and order situation has improved a lot in the past five years. Please note that it is not just the case of women’s safety but the overall safety of our citizens irrespective of who they are. That is the top priority of our party.
Even if I weren’t a woman, the needs of women and children would have been number one on my priority list. I don’t want anyone, whether it is children or men or women, to be unsafe. So yes, we will make sure that everything is taken care of in order to uphold the safety and security of our people.
Do you think there is room for improvement when it comes to general concerns of women across Metro cities around app-cab service providers, nightlife, safe mobility for women in the city? Would policy interventions help such improvement?
Of course, there is room for improvement. There will always be scope for improvement. The process of improvement never stops, right? You are doing your best but still you feel like making it better.
As for issues like safety concerns about app-cab services, you know, these things are totally out of political context. Yes, a basic policy tweak might be brought into place for stricter regulation, but at the end of the day, those who are employing the app-cab drivers need to ensure that those men do not have any questionable background. They need to do a thorough background check of a driver. A political party cannot help in that case.
Citizens also have to take some responsibility. They have to be careful about everything. If there is a mishap, everyone blames the political party in power. This is not right. People also have to ensure their own safety. Employers who are appointing these men as drivers or delivery personnel have to be careful.
What is your stance on the women’s reservation bill? What other areas of women’s rights and issues do you want to focus on, that would give them more weightage in a male dominated society?
Yes, surely I want to press for that bill. That would be a very important step towards women empowerment in India. There are several issues that need serious consideration and policy modification in order to improve the condition of women and children in our country. As I have said earlier, I am aware of those issues and will work on them if I get elected. Right now, I cannot elaborate on them as I am not allowed to do so according to the Election Commission rules.