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The Mamata persona

Print edition : June 10, 2016

Mamata Banerjee. Photo: Swapan Mahapatra /PTI

A HAZE of green clung to the air outside Mamata Banerjee’s house on the afternoon of May 19 when it became clear that the Trinamool Congress was returning to power for a second consecutive term. People danced outside in jubilation, scattered the green abir (powder) in the air and raised slogans. They jostled with one another to catch a glimpse of “Didi” as she came out from time to time to acknowledge their cheers. They came from far and near, from every section of society, every age group, including little children who were perilously close to getting crushed by the euphoric crowd.

The 2016 election has proved once more that Mamata Banerjee is the single most powerful mass leader in Bengal today. The massive electoral victory this year is of special significance for her, as this victory can be called hers alone. It was Mamata Banerjee who contested in all 294 seats and it was for her that the people of the State voted. On the day when election results were declared, she said: “The Trinamool fought the election alone. Despite all forces aligning themselves against us, people voted for us and I thank the people for it.” It was once again clear that Mamata Banerjee was the Trinamool. No one else mattered in the party except her.

Cornered by a united opposition and injured by serious allegations of corruption against her party, the Trinamool chief put up a performance that was vintage Mamata. She showed that five years of being in power had done little to soften the formidable street fighter. With the credibility and reputation of her party at its lowest, Mamata Banerjee came forward and single-handedly entered the fray. It was like the old days: when the chips were down, she always turned to the one thing that never failed her—her own persona. “In all 294 seats you are voting for me and nobody else,” she repeatedly said at election rallies. Once again her persona alone saw her through.

As political stars and heavyweights from all over the country descended upon West Bengal to campaign for their respective parties, Mamata Banerjee countered them alone. While there was a galaxy of leaders on the other side, including Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechuri, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Surjya Kanta Mishra, Mamata Banerjee was the Trinamool’s lone trump card. There is no other leader that can match up to either her popularity in the State or her energy. She held around 150 rallies across Bengal, and if that were not enough, took part in road shows where she walked for miles among the masses.

For all the adulation she enjoys among the people, there is another side of Mamata Banerjee that is ruthless, unforgiving and intolerant of dissent. A professor was put behind bars for forwarding via e-mail an innocuous joke about her; an indigent farmer was labelled a Maoist for daring to ask her a question she found uncomfortable. While her populist style of governing and her practice of “dole” politics has kept her popularity intact among the masses, her mercurial temperament and her belligerent reaction to criticism has alienated her from a sizeable section of the urban intelligentsia—a fact that she appears completely indifferent to.

A sting operation carried out by Narada showed top Trinamool leaders accepting cash on camera. A number of influential party members’ names had come up for their alleged involvement in the Saradha scam. But Mamata Banerjee’s reputation remained intact. Yet for a leader who is known for her clean image and simple life, she is often seen to be turning a blind eye to the misdeeds of her colleagues. Even as former Sports Minister Madan Mitra languished in prison for his alleged involvement in the multi-crore Saradha scam in which lakhs of poor investors were ruined, she gave him the party ticket to contest the election.

If there was any expectation, if only among her most ardent supporters, that Didi would set the party right once she returned to power, it was soon dashed to pieces when she announced, once the election trend had become clear, that “there is no corruption in the Trinamool”. It was only weeks ago in the middle of elections when she came close to acknowledging that there might be some truth in the Narada sting. “I cannot change candidates after announcing their names. Had it been earlier I would have thought about it,” she said. Perhaps at that time there was a feeling of uncertainty. Now that all those featured in the sting, with the exception of Madan Mitra, have emerged victorious, Mamata Banerjee’s reaction hardly came as a surprise to those who are acquainted with her style of functioning.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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