Dec. 11: Somen Mitra has always found Mamata Banerjee hard to swallow. But today the Congress leader hit a fasting Mamata where it hurts the most — in the stomach.
“Does she think she can go on for 61 days like Bagha Jatin'” asked Mitra, whose leadership of the state Congress was one of the reasons for Mamata quitting the party.
Maybe, maybe not. But let’s first get the facts straight. One, it was not Bagha Jatin who fasted for that many days, but Jatindra Nath Das. Two, the number of days he observed hunger strike in Lahore jail was 63 — not 61.
Mitra’s minor memory lapse may be pardoned as there are leaders who have confused Gandhi’s Dandi march with the danda — the stick he used.
Travelling in Malda, Mitra was calling on Mamata to end her fast, rushing into territory where Buddha (as in Bhattacharjee) has trod and slipped.
He wondered how long Mamata would continue her fast, which entered the eighth day and on what ground she would call it off.
“There’s no issue ahead she can use to lift it. She should have responded to the governor’s appeal (Gopal Gandhi had requested her last week).”
What he was hinting at is what observers are also saying — that Mamata is running out of options to call off the fast.
The lady, however, is undaunted. Nearly as battle-hungry on the eighth day of fast as she was on the first, Mamata said in a speech at the venue of her hunger strike: “My supporters are asking me ‘Didi, how long will you continue this fast'’ Why eight days, it may continue for eight months.”
That will be a world record, if it happens. The Guinness Book of World Records names a group of Irish Republicans in prison as having fasted for the highest number of days of 94 in 1920 without force-feeding.
In India, freedom fighter Bhupendra Kumar Datta fasted for 78 days in 1917 without force-feeding in protest against imprisonment. Jatin Das died in Lahore jail in 1929, refusing to be fed by the British authorities. His body was brought from Lahore to Calcutta by train, with thousands gathering at each station to salute the martyr.
Mamata is a long way away still from these landmark events in history, though Gandhiji’s 21 days of fasting — his highest — is not too far. Gandhi had fasted at least 14 times but, for some reason, never more than 21 days and no one has been more effective with hunger strike than him.
The Trinamul leader may pause a little in her fasting and consider the impact she’s having.
She herself is doubtless. “People ask me why I decided to go on fast. What could I have done when all forms of protest have been brutally suppressed' Resorting to a hunger strike was the only option left. My fast will continue and I am prepared to die on the streets but not in a hospital for the cause of Singur farmers.”
The chief minister again appealed to her to end the fast. “It’s taking its toll on her health and I want her to discuss the matter with the government.”
He said BJP leader L.K. Advani had phoned him while he was in Delhi. “I requested Advaniji to talk to her (Mamata) and persuade her to withdraw the hunger strike.”
She doesn’t have anything of the sort in mind. She climbed down the dais at Esplanade that is her fast venue around 4.15 pm, ran up the stairs of another one that had been newly constructed for the rally and spoke for about 70 minutes. A Trinamul supporter was amazed. “Just look at the energy of our leader. It doesn’t seem Didi is on a fast.”
She announced that Trinamul activists would assemble at Esplanade and squat on the road from December 15. The party will put up a giant screen there to show “police torture’’ on farmers, women and children.
“I am amazed at the arrogance of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. I requested him to stop land acquisition…. But he is not listening.”
When alive Anil Biswas, the late CPM state secretary, did not earn Mamata’s endorsement. “I don’t think such an injustice would have been meted out to farmers if Anilbabu was alive,” she said today.
So, anything is possible. Maybe, even eight months of fasting.