Few people are willing to give Mamata Banerjee credit for anything since her famous victory over the Left Front last year, and fewer ready to consider a word in her defence.
Perhaps it would help if they were to put themselves in her shoes.
BY G K RAO
Mamata Banerjee walks into a shop in small town West Bengal and asks for an ice cream cone. “We have no cone, madam, only a stick,” the shopkeeper says nervously.
“What sort of shop is this? All right, then, give me a stick.”
The shopkeeper brings her an orange ice; it’s more like red actually. She’s annoyed and snaps, “No, I want chocolate.”
The man is apologetic. “Madam, we only have orange now. New supply has not come. We cannot keep too much because power cut is so long these days.”
“What! How dare you? Arrest this man,” she orders her security detail. “He’s a Maoist, see he only keeps one colour of ice cream. And see that balloon outside his shop? It’s red, a code for his faith and his real masters. And his neighbour? He’s displaying a red dress in the shop window. In fact, close down the entire street. Investigate everyone. We can’t allow this Maoist menace in our sacred land.”
Improbable? Yes. Impossible? Under West Bengal’s first woman chief minister the sky does seem to be the limit. In that respect, at least, she’s kept faith with her campaign promise. And there’s no doubt that she’s bringing change to the state. If some people don’t like it, that’s just too bad. After all, you can’t please everyone every time. She’s only human.
The real problem is that while people are quick to criticise her hair-trigger reflexes few take the trouble to understand where she’s coming from. Secondly, she seems to have the knack of displeasing precisely those people who can make a noise louder than her, in a manner of speaking. Take that professor, what’s his name, who drew those toxic cartoons of the state’s duly anointed leader and circulated them on the Internet. That’s spreading hate and calumny under any name but see what happened when the government arrested him.
A lot of bleeding hearts who had never heard of the man before started bellyaching about freedom of expression and all that. They kicked up such a racket that it drowned out any hope of rational debate and the man had to be released. In the circumstances, of course, the investigation had to be called off and so she lost a great chance to get at the truth.
When rhetoric starts to masquerade as reason the truth cannot prevail. That’s been her point all along, but unfortunately it takes her a long time to convince people. They don’t listen.
See how long it took her to get them to recognise that Big Red was actually Bad Red. People fail to recognise the solid core of reason behind all that passion.
That vehemence is informed by her conviction that she has the truth, the political variety at any rate, but it scares people, the aam janata as they are also known. They can’t usually be bothered to find out for themselves but won’t accept the word of another person who has actually found it. They just don’t give her enough respect on that score. And they don’t want to make too many choices on any given day, but here is a woman asking, no, demanding that they choose. It’s no wonder that they turn hostile. Abstract commitments of this kind are usually too much like hard work.
That’s another thing. Part of her impatience is directed at this take-it-easy policy. One thing that no can deny Mamata is her capacity for the hard slog. On the other hand, few would deny that most of us are shirkers. We rarely follow the old saw about “a stitch in time”. That’s why so many of us carry life-long wounds that never heal properly. So the chief minister gets ticked off when she hears complaints from people who seem to do nothing more than sit on their backsides. In Bengal, even more so in Kolkata, it’s almost the default position of the average individual, especially after the advent of the communists.
In their defence, however, it must be said that Bengalis are universally acknowledged as thinkers. It’s easier to do that from a seated position, as perhaps in a coffee house. No one ever stood at a Greek symposium and that, as everyone will agree, was the ultimate in intellectual discourse. Closer to our times we have Rodin’s celebrated “Penseur”. He too is sitting down as he ruminates. The point is repose does not necessarily denote inaction, nor the racer’s crouch an absence of deliberation. This irritant is therefore no more than a pardonable misunderstanding between action incarnate and thought personified. It can be resolved if someone makes the effort. But it may go deeper than that, given Mamata’s record.
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