Mamata at the programme in Madarihat on Wednesday. Picture by Anirban Choudhury
Washing glasses at tea stall
If Mamata Banerjee can, why can’t unemployed youths?
The chief minister’s wide repertoire of talents became wider on Wednesday as she spoke of the dignity of labour, her explanations bearing resemblance to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s ideologies but pointing to the government’s compulsions at a time its performance in providing jobs has fallen short of its promises.
At a programme in Jalpaiguri’s Madarihat, Mamata thanked the people of north Bengal for Trinamul’s victory in the Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar Lok Sabha seats. She announced a raft of projects for Jalpaiguri such as kisan mandis, road upgrade, a bridge over the Ghargharia river and a school and a college.
“There will be no dearth of food if you work. Jara bekar, chakri pele korben, na pele ja parben tai korun (Those who are unemployed, if they get a job they should do it. Till that time, do whatever comes your way). If you get work under the 100 days’ scheme, do it. Wash utensils at people’s houses. There is no shame in it,” the chief minister said.
Using herself as an example, Mamata said: “If you ask, Didi, can you dig soil? I will say yes, I can. This soil is mine. If you ask me, Didi will you wash glasses in a tea stall, I will say yes. Don’t I do it at home? Do your own work. There is no shame in it. If somebody says you work in a tea stall, say yes, I work there. At least I don’t steal.
“There are two small shops in my para that used to sell telebhaja (fried items). The owners have built three-storied houses. Everything has a small beginning. We have to stand on our own feet. Nobody can call us thieves, we will not bow our heads before anyone.”
The chief minister said she was referring to the dignity of labour because people like Swami Vivekananda, B.R. Ambedkar, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Rabindranath Tagore, Birsa Munda and Ramakrishna Paramhansa had preached it.
But she missed mentioning Mahatma Gandhi, who was a believer in the dignity of labour — he used to call it bread labour and spin at least 150 yards of khadi before meals.
In one of his articles published in Young India on September 1, 1921, Gandhi had written: “Our children should not be so taught as to despise labour. It is a sad thing that our schoolboys look upon manual labour with disfavour, if not contempt.”
Mamata cannot be faulted for inspiring youths to respect labour. But the question is, whether the advice is applicable to the thousands of graduates passing out of engineering institutes and business schools.
After coming to power, Mamata had promised 10 lakh jobs in two years. Although she has said the government has created more than 6 lakh jobs, the Opposition has questioned the veracity of the claim.
The government has announced a monthly dole of Rs 1,500 each for 1 lakh unemployed youths who have registered themselves with the state’s employment bank. Till now, the benefit has reached around 80,000 people.
Selling telebhaja can be profitable, said Lalan Prasad, who has a shop on Bentink Street. “I earn Rs 1,500 a day. I have a pucca house and land in my village in Bihar,” said Prasad, who sleeps on a verandah in a house in Calcutta.
Rs 1,500 a day is Rs 45,000 a month. Many will grab such a monthly pay pack with glee, but the question is whether educated youths are willing to opt for the mode of income.
“The figure sounds impressive but the chief minister’s suggestion is not practical. At a time highly educated students are suffering because of lack of employment opportunities, such comments are extremely insensitive,” said a professor of marketing in a Calcutta-based B-school.