Kolkata: Once unknown beyond their immediate circles of family, friends and colleagues, they became crusaders due to difficulties and sorrow they experienced at a personal level. They all are now busy plotting the downfall of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who in the very first place is "responsible" for their 'celebrity' status.
Among these fighters working against the Trinamool Congress chief and her party in the West Bengal assembly elections is a Jadhavpur University professor, a widow of a green activist, two housewives, and a farmer.
Dubbed as Maoists or arrested for circulating an innocuous spoof, they all faced Banerjee's wrath at one or the other point of time. Now, they say, they are fighting to "reclaim democracy snatched away by the despotic Trinamool regime".
Ambikesh Mahapatra was leading a normal life as a chemistry professor at the Jadavpur University till April 12, 2012, when his arrest for circulating a spoof on the chief minister made him a household name in West Bengal and elsewhere.
Contesting as an Independent, he is taking on city mayor and Trinamool heavyweight Sovan Chatterjee from Behala East.
Mahapatra openly admits he owes his popularity to Banerjee.
"It is a fact that people know me in India and even abroad because of Mamata. But this popularity is as much an advertisement of the despotic and tyrannical regime that has robbed the entire state of democracy," Mahapatra told IANS.
"It's neither a personal fight nor a move to seek revenge, but to give voice to many people like me who suffered or continue to do so at the hands of this government," says Mahapatra.
He has formed 'Aakranta Aamraa' (We the Victims), a forum of alleged victims of human rights violations and atrocities under Banerjee rule.
Undeterred by his strong adversary Chatterjee, who won the seat in 2011 by a wide margin, Mahapatra has been extensively using the social media to circulate spoofs and jokes revolving around a Narada TV sting operation allegedly showing several Trinamool leaders, including the mayor, taking bribes.
"It's a shame that the mayor's post, once occupied by luminaries like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, now has somebody who has no qualms in taking bundles of cash as bribe," says Mahapatra.
Besides Mahapatra, the forum has fielded Pratima Dutta, wife of murdered green activist Tapan Dutta, from Domjur in Howrah district.
Lending them support is Shiladitya Chowdhury, a farmer branded as a Maoist and thrown into jail for daring to question Banerjee in public about the rising fertiliser prices.
Till then a nondescript famer from Binpur in West Midnapore, people saw on their TV sets police dragging away Chowdhury after Mamata ordered "Oke dhorun... ekkhuni dhorun (catch him... catch him at once)" during a public meet in 2012.
With the case still pending against him, Chowdhury has been going around both Behala and Domjur constituencies, telling people about his miseries and urging them not to vote for the Trinamool.
"My life has been ruined; it's been four years and I still have to do the rounds of court. And I'm not alone. There are many others languishing in jails on false charges just because they opposed the Trinamool in some way or the other."
"The entire state should teach her a lesson by not casting even a single vote for Trinamool which is nothing but a symbol of torture and tyranny," Chowdhury told IANS.
Tumpa Koyal and Mousumi Koyal would perhaps have spent their lives as housewives in a little-known village Kamduni in North 24 Parganas, but for the gruesome gang rape and murder of their friend and their branding as Maoist, allegedly by Banerjee.
Joining forces with 'Akaranta Aamraa', the Koyals have been seeking speedy justice and capital punishment for the guilty. They have even knocked the doors of top political and constitutional authorities, including the president, demanding that the trial be expedited.
Due to their untiring efforts, three people were handed out death sentences and three others life imprisonment in the rape-murder case.
Though hesitant to join the electoral din, the Koyals say they fervently hope Mahapatra and Dutta emerge as winners.
"We don't want to get entangled in politics. Our fight was for justice to our friend whose life was brutally snuffed out. But yes, we wish to see a chief minister who is more concerned about women security," Tumpa told IANS.
Nodding in agreement, Mousumi said: "Mahapatra and Dutta will be the real public representatives. Unlike politicians, they are more like us who have gone through pains and difficulties in life."
And Mahapatra is not alone in his fight against Mamata Banerjee. Not only his "fellow victims" but almost the entire opposition - the Left Front, Congress and the BJP as well as civil society members - have unequivocally extended support to him and Dutta.
(Anurag Dey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)