Mercurial oddball or peculiar visionary?
By V Sudarshan
28th April 2012 11:19 PM
Last week when Time magazine listed Mamata Banerjee (Leader From the Streets) as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, the timing was curious. Mamata was in the news for all the wrong reasons; she was laying down her own version of the commandments: Thou shall not socialise with communists, don’t sit with them, don’t eat with them; she was having a Jadavpur University professor, who had the temerity to forward an anti-Didi cartoon—not a good one at that—to as many as 65 persons, charged for defamation; she had another professor at the Indian Institute of Science Foundation arrested for participating in an anti-eviction protest; she was prescribing what newspapers to read. It was, clearly, a busy week for Didi. I found it interesting that the magazine tucked her away at page 91 in the 106-page issue, just a few pages ahead of the one-eyed Mullah Omar, Sheikh Moktar Ali Zubeyr, Syria’s Bashar Assad who is making Nandigram look like a schoolyard skirmish, and Kim Jong Un, who formed the rogues gallery at page 95. The Time magazine writer borrowed a phrase to describe her: “mercurial oddball”.
Mamata grew up in a rough neighbourhood, her life an endless catalogue of attacks by the Left, which have left her justifiably scarred for life. CPM supporters attacked her most infamously on August 16, 1990, with iron rods. She saw the third rod at the hands of a Leftist lumpen descending slowly in the melee towards her head, and put up her hand to prevent it from cracking her skull; plastic surgery had to be done to her skull, which still swells up from time to time, and she suffers a constant nagging pain. As a result, I wouldn’t call her soft in the head; she is a hard-headed politician. Another attack six years later took away 20 per cent of her sight from her right eye. Needless to say, many find her visionary.
Nearly a year after she became Chief Minister, having ousted the Left who held West Bengal in a constant iron grip for over 30 years, some of the halo around the giantkiller is beginning to fade; she now appears more idiosyncratic than astute. Young Bengalis who voted change are beginning to fret. Most Bengalis are known to like Rabindrasangeet, but to have it blared at traffic signals from terrible loudspeakers is an insult to the bearded Bengali bard. One young aspiring Bengali journalist whom I met opined, her decision to discriminate against those papers who she thinks are sympathetic to the Left, would boomerang on her. Her decision to delete Marx, Engels and the Bolshevik revolution from textbooks is an early sign of a deep intolerance, people say. For a long time I thought Mamata was uneducated, till I spied a photograph of her wearing a lawyer’s robe in her interesting biography, where she repeatedly keeps referring to Sonia Gandhi as the Queen Mother and believes her opponents resort to voodoo and black magic in order to bring about her death. I found her confession, that she didn’t know the difference between chapstick and lipstick till she returned from her only trip to New York, endearing. There was nothing in the Time write up, though, to justify why she was among the 100 most influential people in the world, but as the explanatory end note put it: thinking up names is a bit of a parlour game.
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