|Actress Tithi Bose (extreme right) sits on the chair assigned to Unicef’s representative to India Louis-Georges Arsenault; minister Aroop Biswas takes Tithi to the back row as Mamata Banerjee gestures to Arsenault to return to his seat. (Amit Datta)
Calcutta, Aug. 14: First, Louis-Georges Arsenault lost his voice. Then, he lost his seat.
Arsenault, the Unicef representative to India, had to cut short his speech after his voice drowned in thunderous applause from the audience as a batch of Tollywood and TV actors trooped onto the stage at Netaji Indoor Stadium, where the government today celebrated the first anniversary of its pet project Kanyashree.
A befuddled Arsenault, who was explaining how marriage hindered higher studies of teenaged girls, paused as school and college students continued clapping. Film stars Soham and Hiran and Tithi Bose, best known for her TV avatar Jhilik in the serial Maa, waved and greeted the audience with folded hands as Arsenault stood silently at the podium.
After some time, the Unicef official gave up and returned to his seat beside the chief minister, only to find it occupied by Tithi.
Arsenault took a seat in the back row. Moments later, housing minister Aroop Biswas, Mamata Banerjee’s point man for Tollywood, was seen taking Tithi by the hand to a seat in the back row and leading Arsenault to the chair assigned to him. The chief minister was also seen gesturing towards Arsenault to sit beside her.
Arsenault was not the only speaker drowned out by the boisterous audience. The Tolly brigade stole Mamata’s thunder too. The chief minister, the last speaker, had to pause as actresses Mimi, Nusrat Jahan and Sayantika walked onto the dais to a rousing welcome from the students.
After the clapping stopped, the chief minister said: “When we launched the programme (Kanyashree), our film star friends were there. Prosenjit was there. Dev (now a Trinamul MP) has fever and could not come today. Prosenjit and the others are busy with their work and could not come.”
Among the celebrities who attended the Kanyashree Divas programme today were Tanushree, June, Locket Chatterjee, Subhashree and Rudranil Ghosh.
A government official described the Arsenault episode as embarrassing. “Although it was embarrassing, there was nothing to be done as the students started cheering loudly every time a star stepped onto the dais. It would have been better had all of them arrived before the event started,” the official said.
Arsenault, who left for Delhi this evening, could not be contacted. Asadur Rahman, the Unicef chief in Bengal who was on the dais, laughed off the incident later.
“These things happen at such functions. It doesn’t matter. We had a long discussion with the chief minister in her office at Nabanna on several issues later and she was keen on Unicef’s role in the implementation of the Kanyashree scheme and exploring options for providing vocational training in association with us,” he said.
Today, the chief minister announced a 50 per cent concession on admission fees in vocational studies for girls. Half of the seats at the training centres will be reserved for girls, Mamata added.
“Out of this 50 per cent, 30 per cent will be reserved for girls who have enrolled in the Kanyashree scheme. We have plans to include 1,200 schools and 600 colleges under the scheme,” she said.