Calcutta, June 13: Professor Mamata Banerjee has found a worthy student in the CPM, which has tried out the first lesson on the teacher itself.
“Please do movements, be visible…. That’s the main job for us politicians,” the chief minister had apparently advised Left leaders over fish fry, cakes and coffee when they called on her on Monday to complain about attacks on cadres.
Today, Surjya Kanta Mishra, Opposition-leader-turned-star-pupil, sprang the visibility factor on the chief minister herself by staging two walkouts in the Assembly.
Later in the day, Left Front chairman Biman Bose announced a three-day sit-in at Esplanade from June 25 to protest “Trinamul-sponsored atrocities” against cadres in the districts.
This was not exactly what Mamata had in mind when she advised the Left to make itself visible. The potential challenge posed by the BJP appeared to have been weighing on her mind and she had suggested that the Left should concentrate on taking on the BJP.
Mamata hinted as much in the House today. The chief minister said Mishra’s “behaviour” was not like that of the senior Left leaders who met her on Monday. “I must say that your leadership did not behave in this way with me. They were much better disposed. I was disappointed with what you had to say.... This is not what I expected of you (Mishra),” she added.
But the Left was also under pressure to reassure its ranks and combat criticism that the delegation allowed itself to be outsmarted by Mamata. By walking out and announcing the protest programme, the Left seemed to be addressing its supporters’ concerns and the uncharitable views.
Today’s walkouts were in protest against the chief minister’s alleged reluctance to take questions from the Opposition and for rebuking them during her reply at the closure of the discussion on the home department’s budget.
After the second walkout, Mamata said it was “pre-planned” and accused the Left of refusing to face “the truth” and “running away” whenever she tried to respond to its allegations.
The Left, combating ridicule from the BJP which accused the combine of joining hands with Trinamul to keep Narendra Modi’s party at bay, came in for further attack today from another flank it had left unguarded.
Expelled CPM leader Abdur Rezzak Mollah found common cause with Mamata and advised the Left to “sit quietly”, comments that “did not sound unpleasant or improper” to the chief minister.
The Left and the Congress walked out of the first session after Speaker Biman Banerjee refused to allow them to pose questions to Mamata.
“The chief minister handles many key portfolios. Yet in three years, she has not taken a single question in the House. Her reluctance to face the Opposition in the House is inexplicable and unacceptable,” the CPM’s Mishra said outside the Assembly.
Congress leader Manas Bhuniya echoed him.
During discussions on the home department budget in the second half, Mishra and some other Left MLAs got involved in an altercation with Mamata and minister Partha Chatterjee.
“For every (law and order) incident, action must be initiated, which we know. What needs to be done is not something I need to hear from you (the Left),” the chief minister, who also handles the home portfolio, said during her 63-minute speech.
When Mishra and CPM MLA Gouranga Chatterjee tried to point out that Mamata was not giving direct replies to questions by the Opposition and was criticising the Left instead, the chief minister asked Gouranga: “Who are you? Where are you from? Why should you ask me this?”
Mishra shot back: “You would have known who he is had you attended the House regularly.”
Mamata stopped talking and took her seat, but ministers Partha Chatterjee, Subrata Mukherjee, Jyotipriya Mullick, Firhad Hakim and several other Trinamul members began shouting at the Left.
As the Speaker told the Left legislators to take their seats, they walked out for the second time during the day. “She seems hell bent on boycotting us. We should, then, boycott her,” Mishra told the Speaker before leaving.
Mamata immediately stood up and said: “They keep criticising me baselessly for not attending the House, not taking questions, not issuing statements. I do all of those. Whenever I do, I have to do it staring at their (the Left’s) empty seats because they have inevitably walked out.”
Before the Left staged the walkout, expelled Mollah criticised the Left for approaching Mamata to bring an end to the political violence allegedly unleashed by Trinamul.
“Such is the state of your political bankruptcy that you went to the owner of the cow that ate your crop to complain against the cow,” he said. “Your leaders are showpieces and the decisions they take are out of touch with the people and popular sentiments…. She (Mamata) is right. It’s best if you sit quietly for sometime.”
Trinamul MLAs cheered him, while the Left members sat with ashen faces. Mollah said the Left had made “destructive blunders” in Singur and Nandigram and blamed the top leadership.
Later, Mishra taunted Mollah, saying he should resign and contest an election afresh on a Trinamul ticket.