The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Now showing, Bengal idols
- Same time, different screens: Girl next door and man of ‘missions & mistakes’

Calcutta, March 27: Fighter she’s always been. And singer, painter, writer, too. If you thought you knew all about Mamata Banerjee, think again.

She today let out a secret of her success that could surprise rice-eating Bengalis: she hadn’t had bhat (rice) for 10 years before doctors persuaded her to take a little of it every day for her health’s sake. But she does her yoga and works out daily on the treadmill.

Bengal had a choice on Friday evening — to hear Didi tell the story of her daily life or to listen to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee talk about his “missions” and “mistakes”. Two Bengali television channels had Bengal’s big rivals interact with “common people” — at the same time.

Party faithfuls listened to their leaders, some switching between STAR Ananda, which featured Mamata, and 24 Ghanta where the chief minister answered questions from callers on the phone.

Comparisons would be odious. But there was no denying one thing — the Mamata show brought alive her old image as the girl next door.

Bhattacharjee’s show, on the other hand, was dominated by a sense of injured merit. He had plenty to defend himself for, but sought to underscore that he was more sinned against than sinning.

The fact that Mamata was travelling in a car on way to campaign meetings made it a different setting for her show than the one for Bhattacharjee who sat in the studio, notepad in front of him and pen in his hand.

But it’s her personal story that proved to be the high point of Mamata’s show — all that talk about what she does at home, what food she loves, how she plays her own doctor, how she hums a tune while under stress and so on. And she seemed to have been lovin’ it, surely knowing the effect it would have on her flock but also on others who had always known more of her fiery side.

There is no Mamata without fire. There was plenty of fire in the political issues that dominated the first part of her show — Singur, Nandigram, Tapasi Malik, Chhoto Angaria, Lalgarh, et al.

But isn’t her alliance with the Congress an “unprincipled” one? Didn’t she drive away the Tatas and the Nano from Bengal? She tried for a while to keep her cool, but soon charged back. “Who is the CPM to teach me principles? They blackmailed the Congress government for four and a half years, while profiting from their role at the Centre.” The CPM, to her, is a “selfish giant” who has “thrown Das Kapital into the dustbin”.

The familiar and fiery Mamata poured scorn on the Tatas, though she said she had nothing against any individual industrialist or industries. At the launch of the Nano in Mumbai, Ratan Tata had only a “good afternoon” to say to her. She wished him a “good night”, after which she said the CPM would be gone and a “good morning” would come to Bengal.

“We said Nano, she said “keno (why)”, the chief minister told his callers on the other channel. Cool, if also defensive, he argued how the stillborn Tata factory at Singur would have changed the face of not only the area but the whole of Bengal.

Why does he apologise so many times, asked a questioner, obviously with Left sympathies, because he’s been trying to do good for Bengal. Bhattacharjee’s reply: his one genuine apology was about the police firing at Nandigram two years ago. He, however, blamed the Opposition for carrying on a violent agitation there even after the government had announced in January that year that no land would be acquired at Nandigram. “Nandigram could have been another Haldia, which too was once an obscure village”.

He may have lost it in Nandigram, Bhattacharjee said, but his industrialisation drive is not over — it’s happening elsewhere “with support from the people” and it’ll happen in Nayachar.

On her show, Mamata promised to show the chief minister how to industrialise Bengal without “tears of landlosers”, without destroying agriculture or environment. “In our manifesto, we’ve said Calcutta can be New York, Digha another Goa and North Bengal another Switzerland.”

It wasn’t the election rhetoric, though, that rang through the shows. It was the idea of the shows themselves — the first of its kind in Bengal’s electoral history. Friday evening was Bengal’s great leap forward into electoral reality show.


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