Kolkata: When Mithun Chakraborty accepted the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) flag from Dilip Ghosh, President of the party’s West Bengal unit, at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally at the Brigade Parade ground on Sunday, it ended their search for at least one larger-than-life cultural icon from the state for the ensuing elections.
It’s been out in the open how BJP, apart from pulling out on all stops on the political front, had been trying to woo Sourav Ganguly, ‘Dada’ to the cricket fraternity, to be their face to take on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s persona - an effort which had taken a hit after the former took ill in early January. In the build-up to Sunday’s mega rally, the media was again abuzz with the rumours of Ganguly, Chakraborty and Prasenjit Chatterjee - biggest star in the regional film industry after the Uttam Kumar-Soumitra Chatterjee era to be present in the Prime Minister’s rally and would be bestowed with the party membership.
At the end of the day, it was the 71-year-old Chakraborty who took the plunge - completing a full circle in terms of political journey. Born in a middle class Bengali family of North Kolkata (he made it a point to remind the crowd about his roots), ‘Gouranga,’ as he was known as, was fascinated by the radical Naxalite ideology in the early ‘70s - as most youth of his generation were in those stormy days. At the height of his film career when he straddled between Bollywood and Bengali film industry occasionally, he chose to remain at the left of Centre and was extremely close to a senior minister in the Left Front government which ruled here for 35 long years - Subhas Chakraborty.
After a prolonged hiatus from the political circles, Chakraborty was finally coaxed by Mamata Banerjee - who actually started the culture of using filmstars’ popularity in the ecosystem of the state’s politics, to join as a Member of Parliament after he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by Trinamool Congress. The honeymoon barely lasted for two years when in December, 2016, he resigned as the Rajya Sabha MP after his name was dragged into a scandal involving a ponzi scheme in the state.
A hugely successful entrepreneur who has dabbled in the hospitality industry as well as film production, Chakraborty had chosen to settle down in the south Indian city of Coimbatore - occasionally flying in his personal helicopter to Ooty - where one of his hotels are located at the highest point of the hill resort. Grappling with ill health, Chakrabarty had cut himself off from public life for the last couple of years till a photo of Mohan Bhargav, the Rashtriya Sawamsevak Sangha supremo, visiting him in Mumbai cropped up a few days back - fuelling speculations of him making another foray into politics with BJP.
‘‘Here is my new dialogue. Ami joldhorao noi, bele borao noi... ami ekta cobra, ek chobol-ei chhobi (Don’t mistake me for a harmless snake, I am a pure cobra, one strike and you become a photograph,” was Chakraborty’s parting shot at his speech on Sunday as the audience cheered wildly.
It’s still early days to see what kind of response he evokes in the 20-odd rallies that Chakraborty is scheduled to address throughout West Bengal in the next month or so, but even his detractors will agree that he still commands a sense of awe and respect among the people of the state - built over stories of his integrity over the years. Here goes a few: he had been the highest tax payer for a number of years in the Hindi film industry while his well organised NGOs had silently worked on supporting treatment of cancer and thalassemia.
Soon after he was named in the Saradha chit fund case and questioned by the Enforcement Directorate on a reported sum of Rs 12 million he had received from the group as a ‘fee’ for becoming brand ambassador of a TV news channel funded by the Group, he returned the money and quit the Rajya Sabha as well - which signalled his disenchantment with Trinamool Congress.
A political turncoat or a man of integrity? Let's see which reputation works better.