The Trinamool Congress gave 17 women tickets to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Two of them were young and well-known women Bengali film and television actors – Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan. They were given the task of fighting from the prestigious Jadavpur and Basirhat seats respectively, despite having no prior political experience.
While Chakraborty and Jahan are not well-known in other parts of India, they are popular among those who speak Bengali.
Jahan won by 3,50,369 votes from Basirhat, while Mimi Chakraborty’s margin of victory was 2,95,239 votes. Trinamool Congress won both seats by a margin of less than 1,30,000 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Not only did both the actors deliver a convincing victory, their vote margin was more impressive than most other winning candidates in the state. West Bengal sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha. While Jahan had the second highest victory margin, Chakraborty’s margin was the fifth highest.
What makes their feat particularly remarkable is that they won in spite of being at the receiving end of sexist trolling and commentary from sections of the Bengali public.
Almost immediately after chief minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee had made her decision to field the Bengali actors public, they were both trolled heavily on social media.
Twitter user @iAssangeJulian shared a short video of both of them dancing together, looking at the camera. The caption which went with it read, “Election h ya ..? TMC Loksabha candidates Mimi Chakravarty & Nusrat Jahan soliciting votes jointly for both their constituencies! Keep it up babes !”
The fact that words like ‘soliciting’ and ‘babes’ were used to mock the candidature speaks for itself.
A comment on the same video on YouTube reads, “Top khule nachleo vote debona (I won’t vote for you even if you take off your tops and dance).” The comment has four upvotes.
Another Twitter handle, @hemantraha, shared a photo of both Jahan and Chakraborty pouting while looking at the camera with the caption, “Nusrat Jahan & Mimi Chakraborty asking for votes from their respective constituency.”
Similar sexist comments – including ones that use far more abusive language – can be found aplenty against both the actor-turned-politicians on social media.
The trolling has not ended even after their impressive victories. A comment on a YouTube video where Chakraborty is addressing a press conference after her victory reads, “I think, I think… Oi koro madam (Do that only madam). This is not like Tollywood.”
Male celebrities, prominent personalities and even former actor-turned-politicians who are older than Jahan and Chakraborty have never been attacked with similar aggression for their gender or profession after they entered politics.
During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC had fielded former Indian footballer Bhaichung Bhutia and Harvard historian Sugata Bose. The Bharatiya Janata Party had nominated Bollywood playback singer Babul Supriyo. None of these candidates were attacked so viciously for being new to politics.
During both the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, TMC fielded Dev (Deepak Adhikari), a popular young Bengali actor but a political novice, from the Ghatal constituency.
In a joint interview with Jahan and Chakraborty on News18 Bangla from March, interviewer and senior journalist Biswa Majumdar said, “Dev also contested last time. Dev stood. Nothing like this happened with him. Because you are women…”
“Because he is a man. That’s why it didn’t happen,” Chakraborty replies, interrupting Majumdar. Jahan agreed and firmly said, “Absolutely.” Chakraborty added, “Has Dev never posted a shirtless photo of himself? I am sure he has.”
Chakraborty had also spoken out at sexist comments passed against her by opposition parties. While campaigning in March, she had criticised opposition leaders for allegedly mocking her for wearing a salwar and campaigning, since she is used to wearing jeans.
She had said then, “’Why is Didi wearing a salwar and coming,’ the people from the other team are saying. I’ll be able to work while wearing a salwar. I’ll be able to work while wearing a sari. If I wear jeans, I’ll change as a human and not be able to work? Is that even possible?”
Jahan and Chakraborty took a stand and emerged victorious despite the hate they received for their age and gender. Their victory is an inspiring story for other women in West Bengal.
Sourodpito Sanyal is a freelance journalist.