Election campaign

In Kolkata, the Trinamool Congress adopts a novel mode of poll propaganda – saris

You know it’s election time when you see women march down a South Kolkata avenue wrapped in a party symbol.

Nothing says Bengal like a crumpled, cotton sari. So much so that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has adopted it as part of her personal branding, and pretty effectively too. For, unlike the hollow symbolism of khadi, a cotton sari is actual cheap, mass clothing. In fact, so pleased is the ruling Trinamool Congress with this sari messaging that it is using it in its campaign for the Assembly elections that are underway at the moment, and that will end on May 5.

On Tuesday, a political rally in south Kolkata had scores of woman turn out in nine yards of – wait for it – the Trinamool Congress election symbol, tastefully circumscribed with a green border. Green is the Trinamool colour, facing off against the red of the Communists.

Rukhsana Begum resting on a rickshaw before the rally starts it march.
Rukhsana Begum resting on a rickshaw before the rally starts it march.

Rukhsana Begum looked quite pleased with her new clothes. “Trinamool party workers came and dropped these off last evening, so we wore them,” she said, beaming while resting on a hand-pulled rickshaw.

Will she vote for the Trinamool then? “That we will see,” she said, laughing. “Tomorrow you might find me at a lal (red) rally too.”

The Trinamool symbol, now printed on Begum’s sari, was designed on the spot by party chief Mamata Banerjee in the Election Commissioner’s office after she broke away from the Congress in 1998. It depicts two flowers and grass, tying up with the party’s name, which literally means grassroot. Clearly, Banerjee wanted everyone to know that she stood for populist politics.

Balloons in the Trinamool colours.
Balloons in the Trinamool colours.

The star of the rally was Subrata Mukherjee, standing for re-election from Kolkata’s Ballygunje constituency. Now the minister for public health engineering, Mukherjee was once mayor of the city and has had a stormy relationship with Banerjee, quitting the Trinamool Congress in 2005 and re-joining only in 2010. He moved through the rally in an open jeep, smiling and waving as a loudspeaker attached to an auto-rickshaw ahead of him blasted out a campy jingle in Bengali, listing out all that Banerjee has done for the state as chief minister.

Subrata Mukherjee campaigning in his neon-lit jeep.
Subrata Mukherjee campaigning in his neon-lit jeep.
Auto rickshaws being used as portable sound machines.
Auto rickshaws being used as portable sound machines.
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