Lok Sabha Elections 2024: In Didi’s domain, a new streetfighter leads CPM campaign for revival

But with Mamata, the supremo of the Trinamool Congress, at the helm of the state government for 13 years now, West Bengal has found a new streetfighter in Minakshi
nirban Bhaumik
Last Updated : 29 May 2024, 23:45 IST
Last Updated : 29 May 2024, 23:45 IST

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Kolkata: “This proves that I am a citizen of India,” Minakshi Mukhopadhyay takes out her voter ID card issued by the Election Commission from her purse and waves it at the police personnel guarding the barricade at the entrance of the Harish Chatterjee Street in Kolkata. “How can you stop me from going in?” she asks the officer in mufti.

Harish Chatterjee Street may look like just another neighbourhood in old Kolkata, but it has an important place in the politics of West Bengal. It is ‘Didi’s Para’ – the locality that gave the state Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of the state since 2011, when her years of street fight against the communists culminated at the end of the 34-year-long rule of the Left Front in the state.

But with Mamata, the supremo of the Trinamool Congress, at the helm of the state government for 13 years now, West Bengal has found a new streetfighter in Minakshi, whom the cops would not allow to enter the chief minister’s neighbourhood. As the Communist Party of India (Marxist) strives for a resurgence in what was one of its few bastions in the country, it is relying on the likes of the 40-year-old state secretary of its youth wing – the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI).

“She (Mamata) talks about democracy. This is what democracy has been reduced to in West Bengal, that too in her own para (locality). Is this her zamindari (fiefdom)?” Minakshi asks, as the police personnel stop her from entering Harish Chatterjee Street to seek votes for Saira Shah Halim, the CPI(M)’s candidate in Kolkata Dakshin, who happens to be the daughter of Lt Gen (retired) Zameruddin Shah – the former deputy chief of Indian Army and former vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University – and the niece of eminent actor Naseeruddin Shah.

“We are fighting against the BJP’s communalism and the TMC’s corruption. We are fighting for peace, communal harmony, education for children, and jobs for youths. We are fighting for people’s rights to livelihood,” Minakshi says as she and Saira distribute CPI (M)’s pamphlets among bystanders at the entrance of Harish Chatterjee Street.

“We will create jobs, something the TMC forgot to do while promoting freebies in the last 10 years,” says Saira. “We will create a culture of investment for the future.”

Minakshi, a postgraduate in political science from the University of Burdwan, rose to prominence when the CPI(M) fielded her against Mamata and Suvendu Adhikari of Bharatiya Janata Party in Nandigram during the 2021 state assembly elections. She lost and Suvendu beat Mamata. The TMC, however, retained power, although the BJP emerged as the main Opposition, replacing the CPI(M), which could not win a single seat and got only 4.73% of the votes.

The CPI(M), however, sensed a whiff of a revival in the 2022 municipal elections and the 2023 panchayat elections as its vote share in some districts went up to 20% while a series of scams hit the popularity of the TMC. With Mohammed Salim, the CPI(M)’s state secretary since March 2022, initiating a process to end the gerontocracy in the party, several young leaders have risen through the ranks in the past couple of years. Minakshi, known for her next-door-girl demeanour, down-to-earth image, and fiery speeches, has emerged as the ‘captain’ of the young communists. She was arrested and was allegedly tortured in jail after a protest by the DYFI against the murder of student activist Anis Khan in early 2022. She led a 3000-km-long ‘Insaaf Yatra’ across West Bengal for 50 days in December 2023 and January 2024. The yatra culminated in a massive rally in Kolkata, giving the CPI(M) a mass leader it was looking for to fill the void left by late Jyoti Basu and ailing Buddhadev Bhattacharya.

Minakshi, herself, is not contesting the Lok Sabha elections but she has been tirelessly crisscrossing the state for the past several weeks, leading the campaign for the CPI(M) candidates, many of them being the gen-next leaders of the party, be it Saira in Kolkata Dakshin, Sayan Banerjee in Tamluk, Dipsita Dhar in Serampore and Srijan Bhattacharyya in Jadavpur.

When the women of Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal started protesting the atrocities by the local TMC strongman Sheikh Shahjahan and his aides a few weeks before the Lok Sabha elections, Minakshi outwitted the state police who wanted to stop her from going to the village. She put on a saree instead of her usual salwar-kameez, rode on the pillion of a party worker’s bike, and reached among the protesters. She also campaigned for the seniors, like Salim in Murshidabad and Sujan Chakraborty in Dum Dum. She also joined Congress’s state unit chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury when he filed his nomination as his party’s candidate in Baharampur.

The CPI(M) and the Congress have electoral understanding in West Bengal, although the TMC has chosen to go solo, despite claiming that it continues to be a part of I.N.D.I.A.

“The Left Front wanted to go for industrialization based on the solid foundation of agriculture in West Bengal,” Minakshi says, addressing an election rally in support of Srijan in Tollygunge. “What have the TMC government here or the BJP-led government at the Centre done to set up industries and create employment opportunities in West Bengal? Why do our youths have to go to other states for livelihood?” she asks amid roaring applause from the audience.

The BJP hopes that a resurgent CPI(M) will take away from the TMC a significant chunk of the votes of the minority community. The TMC, on the other hand, is optimistic that some of the people, who are opposed to Mamata Banerjee and had voted for the BJP would now go back to supporting the CPI(M), thus dimming the prospects of the saffron party.

The CPI(M) hopes that Minakshi and other young leaders of the party will be able to change the political landscape of West Bengal, ending the TMC-BJP binary.

“They (TMC or BJP workers) may try to intimidate you. But you must resist any attempt to loot your votes, no matter what happens,” Minakshi tells the crowd in Tollygunge.

“We once had a streetfighter called Mamata Banerjee. But she is now busy running the government,” says Dipak Ghosh, who was having a cup of tea at a roadside stall and listening to Minakshi. “We got a new one though,” he says, pointing at the ‘captain’.

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Published 29 May 2024, 23:45 IST

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