Jairam Ramesh mocks Mamata Banerjee in an official letter. Didi should introspect why he would never do so with any other political leader.
On 19 October, Union rural development minister Ramesh released Rs.601.2 crore of NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) funds to West Bengal. A routine matter, except that Ramesh added a sting in the tail to his covering letter to chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The last line read: “Incidentally, may I add, this reflects how sensitive the so-called ‘brain-dead government in Delhi’ is to the needs of the people of West Bengal.”
This was a reference to what Banerjee had said in an interview to a Bengali daily a few days earlier. Predicting that the United Progressive Alliance government would not last more than six months, she had said: “The UPA government is a brain-dead government now. A brain-dead patient can be kept on ventilator. Everyone knows the patient has died, but no one wants to pull the plug.” Jairam was also gently pointing out the fact that in 2012-13, the Centre had released about Rs.1,000 crore more to the state under NREGA than it did in 2011-12.
It doesn’t take very much to get Mamata angry, and this was an act of deliberate needling. An enraged Banerjee put up the letter on her Facebook page with a note that read: “You would be shocked to see the attitude of the central government towards the state of West Bengal…Good and effective governance deserves a clear delineation of governmental activity and political activity… releasing funds for the central schemes is not a matter of charity… (That line) is clearly vindictive, unethical and unconstitutional. I am really stunned to see that a Union minister can write a distasteful statement like this to a state government. This creates a bad precedence and adds stigma to healthy democratic fibre of our country.”
The Bengali public has responded enthusiastically to her post. Within 48 hours, nearly 5,000 people had “liked” the post (though I am unclear what that indicates: I have seen people “liking” posts by parents who have recently lost their child), and close to 2,000 people had commented. A quick glance through the comments reveals that Bengali pride has been hurt. Ramesh has been called a “megalomaniac” and “a bogash (sic) person” among other things. Several particularly outraged FBers have asked Didi to throw the money right back on Ramesh’s face. Now that suggestion is too “bogash” even for Didi to take seriously. But it indicates the complete disconnect with reality that has sadly become the hallmark of a particular type of Bengali.
Obviously, Ramesh is having a good laugh. This is exactly the sort of reaction he wanted. To him, this whole thing is another good Bong joke. This is sad. For Bengal and Bengalis.
While Ramesh’s jibe cannot be condoned officially—after all, it’s a letter on a government of India letterhead—it’s high time Mamata’s supporters realized that she has become a bit of a laugh. It’s totally unclear what her ideology is other than to look for a fight. Since the defeat of the Left Front, she has had to find a new enemy and it obviously had to be the Centre. So we have been subjected to this ridiculous Punch and Judy show for months now. Judy went hysterical about everything from the Railway Budget to the presidential candidate to the diesel price hike, while Punch nodded politely. When she flounced out of the alliance, Punch tried very hard to hide his glee but didn’t fully succeed. Judy, in the meantime, jailed amateur cartoonists, saw conspiracy theories in rape cases, and renamed water tanks. Industrialists who were considering investing in West Bengal are possibly queuing up at their favourite places of worship and thanking the Lord that they were saved in time.
And Mamata should be the last person to talk about “clear delineation of governmental activity and political activity”. Firstly, this fine line was obliterated in India many years ago, and I suspect Mamata never knew about the line anyway, till whoever writes her Facebook posts mentioned it. The ministry that was the first to delete that line for all time to come was the railways ministry, which Mamata ran for many years.
Yes, Bengalis should be furious. But they should be furious about how their leader, with her intemperate comments and irrational antics, has given a Union minister the gumption to add this snide remark to a letter releasing funds that are the state’s by rights. Would a minister ever do that to a Nitish Kumar or a Jayalalithaa? Would anyone have dared to write this to a Jyoti Basu or a Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (Disclaimer: I think Basu ruined West Bengal. I am only referring to the dignity with which he carried himself)? The letter tells us more about the space Mamata has managed to trap herself in, rather than about Ramesh.
Though nowhere close to Santa-Banta, Bong jokes have always been popular. It’s sad for all Bengalis that Mamata Banerjee is becoming one.