Mamata the rebel

The trio of Didi, Behenji and Amma have brought their distinct identities to the political centre stage, but Banerjee stands apart
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First Published: Wed, Sep 19 2012. 10 48 AM IST
TMC leader Mamata Banerjee gestures during a press conference in Kolkata on Tuesday. Photo: Bikas Das/AP
TMC leader Mamata Banerjee gestures during a press conference in Kolkata on Tuesday. Photo: Bikas Das/AP
Updated: Thu, Sep 20 2012. 12 45 PM IST
In the last quarter of a century, one state each from the East, North and South of the country has contributed a woman leader each to the centre stage of Indian politics. A Didi, a Behenji and an Amma.
The parties headed by these women have proved to be strange bedfellows as far as coalition politics is concerned. Women are from Venus and it was never easy to predict the turns the mercurial Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati or Jayalalithaa would take when the alliance they were a part of was at a critical juncture. Even in the last few days, after announcing a long deadline of 72 hours, Banerjee kept everyone guessing on her next step in case Delhi did not pay heed to her demands.
Only Mayawati has made her wish public to be the Prime Minister of the country. The other two, no doubt, are confident enough that they are “PM material”. Apart from this, the trio has many things in common. They are the single point power centres and sole star campaigners of their respective parties. They seldom allow voices of dissent within the party. In the case of Mayawati and Jayalalithaa they are also the lone public voice of the party. Banerjee at least allows people like Mukul Roy or Kunal Ghosh to explain the party’s position.
Maybe because of the polyester blended textile, one can never see Behenji in a crushed salwar kameez. But for the bullet-proof shield she wears, Amma is one of the most well-dressed politicians in the country. She has a good sense of colour, if not of humour. In terms of articulation, Amma is one the best. Like Prakash Karat, Amma also is very particular about speaking in full sentences. Behenji’s hindi has its rustic charm. Accent is only one aspect, it is difficult to decipher Didi’s words.

      Jayalalithaa and Mayawati even while in opposition or as chief ministers, seldom walked on the streets of their respective states, for an election campaign or for leading an agitation. On the contrary, Banerjee is always on the streets, when she was fighting the Left and now even while she is the chief minister. She is always in agitation mode.
      All the three leaders love to dictate terms—within the party and within the coalition. Banerjee came to the hot seat in Writers Building, literally fighting the Left.
      These are times when chief ministers are working overnight to create an image for themselves as modern and sophisticated. It was a common joke in Kerala that the present chief minister Oommen Chandy would deliberately tear his shirt here and there and often forget to comb his hair—to create an impression of being simple. These days we see Chandy in well-starched, well-pressed shirts and hair well-combed.
      The way Banerjee carries herself in the crushed cotton saree speaks eloquently of the rebel in her. Though she can’t stand cartoons taking a dig at her, Banerjee has an artist in her: she paints, writes poems and songs for children. The hawai chappal and the old Fiat in which she used to come to Parliament are symbols of the carefully maintained simplicity, to be identified as one of the masses.
      Almost 15 months have passed and Banerjee is yet to change the attire of a fighter to that of a ruler. Bengal was always a problem-rich state. The condition remains the same. Non-performance of Banerjee as an administrator is one more in its bouquet of problems. When she is always in the fighting mode, where is the time to sit down and think of the needs of the state?
      With not much fight left in the Left who are in shambles in Bengal, Banerjee has extended her fight to Delhi—with the Congress as her new adversary. Now she has decided to withdraw support to UPA II. Fighting with Delhi is a culture Banerjee has inherited from her arch enemies, the Left. If the UPA-Left alliance lasted for more than four years, the Congress-Trinamool Congress (TMC) marriage was over in three-and-a-half years. If the UPA I was unable to proceed with many reform-oriented legislations due to objections raised by the Left, UPA II went ahead with crucial decisions in terms of policy forcing Banerjee to withdraw support.
      If Congress’ political managers during the UPA I found it difficult to understand the plans of the Left, Banerjee has proved an equally unpredictable and costly ally in the UPA II. What next for Banerjee in Delhi? She is now saying the UPA government will last for three to six months only. One has to wait for things to evolve, considering the fact that six months is too long a period in politics.
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      First Published: Wed, Sep 19 2012. 10 48 AM IST