Calcutta, March 18: Mamata Banerjee today overcame her limited facility for “Rajasthani” and spoke a language that the business community understood at a time its attention is being hogged by Narendra Modi.
“I don’t like wasting timeÖ. I think we should utilise every minute. Because of the model code of conduct, I don’t have any work,” the chief minister told a post-Holi get-together organised by the Marwari community in the city.
“You people are businessmen. You know that work has a continuous processÖ. You tell me how do you feel when time is wasted?” she added, striking a chord among an audience where time is counted as money.
The huge applause that followed must have warmed the Trinamul leader’s heart ahead of the unpredictable four-cornered contest for the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal.
Mamata was at her public-relations best when she spent over an hour at the event, organised by the International Marwari Federation, an umbrella organisation of the entrepreneurial community that traces its roots to Rajasthan.
Although the chief minister had issued a statutory disclaimer — “I like and can understand Rajasthani but can’t speak” — she set the tone by requesting a singer to opt for a Marwari song instead of the planned Rabindrasangeet.
This was not a bridge-building exercise. The glacial mood that had set in after the crackdown that followed the tragedy at AMRI, Dhakuria, had melted sometime ago and the chief minister’s ties with the community were already on the mend.
The new kid on the block is the unknown factor called the Modi-driven BJP and its unfathomable implications for an electoral field as splintered as that in Bengal.
In the season of power politics, the general election was the elephant at the business venue. Dinesh Bajaj, the president of the federation and former Trinamul MLA, could not help but declare: “Our community is with you, DidiÖ. We want your success in Delhi.”
The mention of “Delhi” need not have evoked pleasant memories after last week’s no-show by Anna Hazare and crowds in the capital. But such assurances do matter closer home.
Some Bengal constituencies — Calcutta North, Calcutta South and Howrah, for instance — have significant Marwari populations. A popular perception is that the business community tends to support the BJP, especially in this round of national elections that has become a contest between Modi and the rest.
As Bengal will have a four-cornered contest this time and every vote counts in such fractured fields, the Marwari base can well be an influential factor in some of the constituencies.
For a chief minister who once went out of her way to throw her weight behind the campaign to rename the state as Paschimbanga, Mamata today strove hard to hold aloft her cosmopolitan credentials.
From prodding her cabinet colleagues — Madan Mitra, Firhad Hakim and Aroop Biswas — to don the traditional Rajasthani headgear (safa) to asking the speakers from the Marwari community to deliver their addresses in their mother tongue, Mamata tried to prove that she was feeling at home.
She also traced her fascination for the colour blue to a light-bulb moment in Rajasthan. “Jaipur is called Pink City and from there I got the idea of having a uniform colour for our CalcuttaÖ. I couldn’t choose red, nor could I opt for green. I chose blue and white,” said the chief minister.
Mamata laid stress on time management not without reason. Investors have often complained of the absence of work culture in Bengal.
The chief minister has tried to bring about some change by shunning bandhs and cracking down on strikes. In fact, against the backdrop of no dramatic change in land policy and failure to attract big-ticket private investments, a perceptible change in discipline at workplaces is perhaps the most tangible achievement she can place before the business community.
Today, she cast herself as a chief executive who has little time to waste but is being compelled to hit the brakes.
“There are so many elections, Assembly, panchayat, civic, then there are byelections. So, you lose one or one-and-a-half years because of the elections in five years,” Mamata said, before making a suggestion to hold all elections together.
The objective is laudable but holding the elections together in a huge country like India with over 80 crore voters will be easier said than done. But the idea did win her brownie points.
“The best thing about her is her energyÖ. She doesn’t believe in the word ‘no’, much like us,” said a businessman.
The question will remain if commitment to work alone can wean the business community away from the Modi bandwagon. Conversely, a perception also exists that many industrialists have backed Modi unquestioningly, although he has remained vague on several contentious policy matters.
The two Ms — Modi and the model code — appeared to be playing on Mamata’s mind through the day.
“Some people are saying ‘chanting namo, namo’ (presumably a play on NaMo that stands for Narendra Modi) will bring the BJP to power. I am not willing to consider there is a BJP wave. Neither the BJP nor Congress, the federal front will run the political discourse of India,” Mamata told a Trinamul meeting earlier in the day.
The chief minister, who had declared a few months after assuming power that she slogged like a demon (“bhooter moton”), added at the party meeting: “I love to workÖ I have nothing to do in my office (because of the model code). I feel guilty at times.”