- Internationally renowned magician P.C. Sorcar Jr is the BJP candidate for the Barasat Lok Sabha constituency
- The sitting MP is Trinamool’s Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, who isn’t giving her celebrity adversary much of a chance
- The main problem confronting the Barasat area is law & order, especially spiralling crimes against women
- Born in 1946, Sorcar Jr is the son of the best-known Indian magician of the day, P.C. Sorcar. His troupe is called Indrajaal.
“Desher ja obosta taate ekmatro magicianra-i parben problem solve korte (The mess that the country is in, only magicians can solve our problems),” quips Tulu Dutta, a homemaker peering out of the ground floor window of her house in Salt Lake city, abutting Calcutta, in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, the more urban end of Barasat Lok Sabha constituency, from where magician P.C. Sorcar Jr is contesting on a BJP ticket.
It’s a sizzling April afternoon, and Sorcar is on his last round through the middle class neighbourhoods before he breaks for lunch. Shouts of “Amra kintu magic dekhbo” (But we want to see magic) are thrown at him liberally from people standing in their doorways, hanging out of balconies and lining either side of the streets. Sorcar is loath to disappoint them. He has been standing on the deck of his open jeep, waving and smiling as it inches its way slowly forward. Now he steps out to walk part of the way—something he tells us he always tries to do. And, as if to play to the gallery, he takes a swig from the water bottle an aide has just handed him, seemingly without fully gripping it with his fingers but by picking it up with some invisible glue stuck to his open palm. If you blinked you missed it, but those who hung on to every gesture of his saw it and clapped and cheered.
But for the most part, Sorcar is dead serious and prefers to interpret the calls for ‘magic’ to mean that the people want him to conjure solutions to the problems plaguing them. For decades, Barasat and its environs have been infamous for the seemingly uncontrollable levels of crime, especially those against women. From the murder of Bapi Das—beaten to death by goons when he tried to protect his sister—to the recent incident of the gangrape and murder of a college girl in the district’s Kamduni village, Barasat has virtually been written off as an area in the grip of gangs of feral criminals. Its proximity to a stretch of the Bangladesh border also makes it a den of illegal activities, including smuggling and human trafficking. “But political parties have done little to deal with the problems because it’s a votebank,” explains Sorcar. “Almost everywhere I go, the one issue that inevitably comes up is the safety of women. It is shocking that for so long we have allowed the girls and women of this area to live in fear without trying to address the problems”.
While Sorcar’s rival and the sitting MP from Barasat, Trinamool’s Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, scoffed at the electoral prospect of a “person from the entertainment industry”, she herself hasn’t been spared criticism for failing to tackle the multitude of problems facing a diverse constituency that stretches from middle-class Salt Lake to remote fisheries and villages like Kamduni. In fact, in the infamous Park Street rape case, in which Mamata Banerjee had initially dismissed the victim’s allegations, only to be proven wrong, Ghosh Dastidar had echoed her leader in questioning the woman’s claim.
Naturally, Sorcar tells us that “making girls and women of this constituency feel safe” is one of his top priorities. By now, we have moved indoors, to the house of a local BJP leader, where Sorcar and his entourage is to have lunch and a welcome siesta before the evening campaigning begins.
Sorcar’s campaigning starts around 10 every morning and goes on till about noon and resumes at 4-4:30 in the afternoon. Though all three meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner are more or less time-bound, Sorcar’s aides say he does not have any specific preferences as far as food is concerned. “Everything from fish, eggs, meat to vegetarian courses are on the menu. It’s all normal, everyday cuisine though. Campaigning for election and addressing rallies haven’t changed his life in any major way,” says Debopriyo Sen, a campaign manager.
In his maiden political quest, Sorcar has had his party’s biggest national draw by his side. In each of his visits to Bengal—five, in a span of three months, including his last one to campaign for Sorcar—BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi took aim at his regional bete noire, Mamata, and drew the public’s attention to ‘larger issues’ like the Saradha scam and illegal Bangladeshi immmigrants, ever raising the pitch in this season of untrammelled spewing of political venom.
The fire and brimstone of high-stake politics has singed Sorcar too. First, he found himself at the receiving end of criticism from party colleagues—many of whom were said to be disgruntled at his nomination—reportedly for pointing out that Mamata’s government had done some good work in Bengal. A couple of weeks later, he faced a formal complaint and got an EC notice for saying at a rally that Mamata should go to him to get her head checked. “I have a degree in human psychology,” he had declared. “I know how to administer treatment.”
Pradip Chandra Sorcar does hold a degree in applied psychology from the University of Calcutta. “Magic is really about the mind. It’s about perception. I have to first make you believe something before it can become a reality for you. So the process first takes place in the mind.” As he speaks he distractedly repeats the bottle trick from earlier in the day—again, it sticks obediently to his open palm. A microcosmic version, some would say, of the larger battle of perceptions—where Modi’s promise of a wonder drug cure to all ills in India has indeed spawned jokes that end with the line, “Ab ki baar...P.C. Sorcar”.
The sun is still up. “My wife has been complaining that I’m going dark.” Complain or not, his family—wife Jayashree and daughters Maneka, Moubani and Mumtaz—have all been extremely supportive and have campaigned along with him. In fact, Sorcar tells us that winning is more important to his daughters—one of whom is also a magician—than it is to him. “I think it will really upset them if it doesn’t happen.”
While the 67-year-old magician is not overconfident, nor is he apprehensive. All the scepticism about the BJP’s winnability in Bengal has grudgingly given way to a new reckoning—the predictions started with zero seats, then climbed to one, then went further upwards as each of Modi’s subsequent visits set Bengal’s politics roiling.
Did you have anything to do with it, we ask the magician. He smiles enigmatically, eyebrows raised in trademark fashion, his hand reaching out to the bottle to cock a thumb at gravity.