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Mamata Banerjee handled Sandeshkhali developments ‘incredibly well’: Saayoni Ghosh

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Trinamool Congress candidate from Jadavpur Constituency Saayoni Ghosh with West Bengal Sports Minister Aroop Biswas (L) during her election campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, in Kolkata

Trinamool Congress candidate from Jadavpur Constituency Saayoni Ghosh with West Bengal Sports Minister Aroop Biswas (L) during her election campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, in Kolkata

Kolkata: The blue-ash cotton saree with bright red border carefully draped by actor-politician Saayoni Ghosh appeared in particular contrast to the signature blue-bordered white saree of her leader-cum-mentor Mamata Banerjee who she sought to defend on one of West Bengal’s most pressing issues of the upcoming general elections: Sandeshkhali.

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Even as the 31-year-old youth leader of the Trinamool Congress pinched herself at her apartment in the tony neighbourhood of Jodhpur Park in south Kolkata to believe that the party has actually given her a ticket from Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat which, she maintained, “felt like a homecoming”, Ghosh sounded confident that the Sandeshkhali damage was “well controlled”.

“One Sandeshkhali won’t turn around women’s perception of Mamata Banerjee in this state,” Saayoni told PTI in an interview, “The very fact that she is the country’s only woman CM itself goes to show how Bengal reposes faith in a woman to run a government.” Saayoni’s confidence appeared to stem from her belief that Banerjee “handled Sandeshkhali incredibly”, and could contain the situation well in time before the BJP could “turn a controversy into a conspiracy and convert that into a Nandigram or a Singur by blowing it out of proportions”.

“The CM took all necessary and decisive actions. She set up grievance redress camps, sent political delegations to placate people’s anger, started the process of returning land parcels via DMs and block offices and made all arrests,” she listed.

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Ghosh wouldn’t touch suspended TMC leader and Sandeshkhali prime accused Shajahan Sheikh or his cohorts with a barge pole. But maintaining a safe distance from the tainted leaders did not stop her from lauding state police actions in the region.

“The Bengal police delivered where the ED and the CBI failed. Shajahan’s arrest could have happened sooner if there hadn’t been a judgment anomaly in the High Court. The central agencies never brought that up. So, what stopped them from arresting Sheikh?” she argued.

“What happened in Sandeshkhali is very unfortunate. I am not trying to defend it in any way. But it is an isolated development and the impact is well contained,” Saayoni maintained.

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For someone who joined politics as recently as in February 2021, barely a couple of months ahead of her TMC ticket for the Asansol-South segment in the state polls which she narrowly lost, the rise and rise of the Tollywood actor within her party seems remarkable.

Within a month of her state election disappointment, Saayoni found herself on the chair of president of the Trinamool youth wing, a position previously held by the party’s perceived second-in-command Abhishek Banerjee. She likes to call acting her “first love” and politics her “last affection”, with the former clearly taking a backseat for now.

“I have done three feature films and nearly 350 public meetings in the last three years. I have crisscrossed the state and never gave people the impression that I am just another armchair politician,” she said, clearly ecstatic about her nomination from Jadavpur, a seat that bears the legacy of Mamata Banerjee’s historic victory over CPI(M) heavyweight Somnath Chatterjee back in 1984.

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Saayoni confessed that contesting from Jadavpur “wasn’t in her distant dreams” and that she was “prepared for any other constituency but Jadavpur”.

“It’s a great feeling coming back to the place I live. The way Didi and Abhishek made me work throughout the state, I never thought they would bring me back home,” she said.

But that ecstasy seemingly remains laced with anxiety of failure in a seat which the party has kept winning for the past three terms in a row. “This is a prestigious constituency, the seat of Mamata Banerjee, the giant killer. She has put a lot of faith in me in awarding this seat. Losing here is not an option. I won’t leave any stone unturned to romp home with a victory,” Saayoni, who takes on BJP’s state think tank member Anirban Ganguly and CPI-M’s young turk Srijan Bhattacharya, said.

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That motivation notwithstanding, Ghosh seems to be struggling with a legacy she would much rather tuck underneath the carpet… that of her predecessor and a member of the acting fraternity Mimi Chakraborty, who resigned from the party only days before TMC announced its candidates and returned to her acting career.

“I am not carrying Mimi’s legacy,” Saayoni defends, “People have seen how I have worked all over the state. Commitment to my party remains my priority.” Irrespective of her relative inexperience in politics, Saayoni, an actor since the age of 16, claims she finds her position vis-à-vis her predecessor “an advantage”.

“The people of Jadavpur are happy to finally find an active political candidate in their midst after a while,” Saayoni’s characteristic boldness was difficult to miss.

“They know I can talk on behalf of the party with reason. Three years ago, my answers to their questions would have been superficial. Not anymore, they are now factual. I can handle people’s grievances and go out of my way to fulfil their expectations,” she added.

So, what role does Saayoni perceive for herself in Parliament, should she taste success in electoral politics? “I think it would be one of balance. Didi and Abhishek know that I am vocal. If I can speak in meetings and have no problems interacting with people, I should be able to carry the same kind of confidence when I challenge the system, inside Parliament or outside,” she said, adding with a smile, “But it would also be one of wait and watch. And learn.”

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