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Mamata's reality show

Published : Jun 15, 2012 00:00 IST

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Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister, walks out of a CNN-IBN special show at Kolkata's Town Hall on May 18.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister, walks out of a CNN-IBN special show at Kolkata's Town Hall on May 18.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

IN yet another demonstration of her intolerance of criticism, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee accused young students of being Maoists for asking uncomfortable questions at an interactive session organised by a television news channel in Kolkata on May 18. Before storming out of the venue, she also reportedly instructed the police to take photographs of those whose questions had annoyed her.

What enraged Mamata Banerjee were the questions relating to the increasing violence against women in the State, the behaviour of certain prominent leaders and Ministers of her party, and the infringement of the democratic rights of citizens. The last issue was in reference to the arrest of a professor for forwarding by e-mail a cartoon that caricatured Mamata Banerjee's replacing of Dinesh Trivedi with Mukul Roy as Railway Minister soon after the Railway Budget this year ( Frontline, May 18, 2012).

It was a political conspiracy to murder me, she said, referring to the word vanish in the cartoon. When two young girl students of Jadavpur University and Presidency College raised the issues of the attacks on women and the conduct of certain Trinamool leaders, Mamata exploded. They are the Maoist students! You can ask that girl all the detail. I am sure they are asking the Maoist questions [ sic], she thundered.

She said that the students present were selected only from Maoist organisations. I cannot sit with the Maoists, she said before storming off the stage. The students, mostly from Jadavpur University and Presidency College, belonged to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Students Federation of India, she alleged.

The Maoist girl, a political science student of Presidency College, was flabbergasted. My dad's going to be really amused, because I'm not a Maoist. I am just asking her a question, she said. Later, the police reportedly contacted the television channel for telephone numbers of the students who were present at the show.

Mamata Banerjee's latest outburst once again drew a lot of flak from civil society members and from various political quarters, including the Congress, her ally in the State and at the Centre. It is a manifestation of her frustration [at being unable] to control the media and possibly a reflection of her exasperation. It is better to understand and appreciate her from a distance, Pradesh Congress general secretary Om Prakash Mishra told Frontline. His comment suggested a political relationship on the brink of a break-up.

Surya Kanta Mishra, Leader of the Opposition and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, told Frontline: She claims that the Jangalmahal problem is solved, yet she sees the spectre of Maoists everywhere, including among students in Kolkata's Town Hall [where the interactive session took place]. Her behaviour was yet another example of not only her intolerance but also her paranoia and fear psychosis.

Interestingly, before assuming power in the State, when members of the ruling Left Front were being targeted by the extremists, Mamata Banerjee had asserted that there were no Maoists in West Bengal and repeatedly called for the removal of the Central security forces combating Maoists in the State. But a little over a year later, she appears to be seeing Maoists even in the unlikeliest of places.

The State government has continued to remain in the self-congratulatory mode it adopted as Mamata Banerjee celebrated one year in power. The government organised a week-long Pragati Utsab (Celebration of Progress) and Ma, Mati Manush, her political slogan, replaced Tagore songs at traffic signals. The Chief Minister reiterated the claim that in the first year itself her government had fulfilled almost all the election promises and in a few months, there will be nothing left to do.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jun 15, 2012.)

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