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Since 1st March, 1999
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The science behind Mamata’s phul

New Delhi, Sept. 7: A political leader known to display mood swings and flashes of temper taking time out to paint a flower doesn’t surprise some psychoanalysts who say the break may be a sign of regression — a defensive reaction to impulses.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee spent 45 minutes on Friday painting flowers while her delegation was waiting at Raj Bhavan to begin negotiations that could decide the future of the Tatas’ Nano project in Singur. She painted on Saturday, too.

“It may be what we sometimes call regression in the service of the ego,” said Ashok Nagpal, director of the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Delhi. “It’s a way of telling the world you don’t always get unhinged.”

Psychologists caution that individual reactions to trouble or moments of crisis can vary from person to person and can be interpreted with some confidence only through personal interaction and psychoanalysis. But regression in the service of the ego is usually intended to tackle the stress that emerges from underlying emotions or external circumstances.

An interlude of painting in the midst of trouble is consistent with outbursts of anger and relatively quick mood changes, said Rajat Mitra, a psychologist in Delhi.

“It’s a type of regressive behaviour. Under acute stress, some individuals may act a much younger age and display childlike behaviour. It could be some activity they find comforting,” he said.

“A mature personality is less likely to regress,” added Mitra. “And repeated regressive behaviour may represent immaturity. It is a coping mechanism — something that allows such individuals to endure a crisis.”

Nagpal believes Mamata’s choice of her artwork on Friday — kaash phul — itself could have been an attempt to create a symbol of her current campaign for land. “It’s not deliberate, nor is it involuntary — but somewhere in between.”

Psychologists say regressive behaviour can range from harmless activities such as sucking a pencil or leaping in glee while playing with a child to screaming and shouting in anger.

Such behaviour can be positive or negative, depending on the context during which it emerges. “But it should not become a substitute when responsible behaviour and leadership is expected,” said Mitra.

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