Mamata swings from merciless to merciful

Decoding Didi’s two avatars

By Meghdeep Bhattacharyya in Calcutta
  • Published 14.06.19, 6:27 AM
  • Updated 14.06.19, 6:27 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee enquires about the condition of patients lying on the floor near the emergency ward at SSKM Hospital around noon on Thursday. Telegraph picture

Sledgehammer-wielding enforcer to forgiving Didi.

Mamata Banerjee on Thursday rode a roller-coaster after sweeping into SSKM Hospital in the morning and setting up an explosive confrontation with an unfamiliar adversary: apolitical youngsters who figure among the brightest children in the country.

If the chief minister began the day with belligerence that threatened to escalate the healthcare crisis, she ended the day on a mellower note with an appeal to end the impasse.

The chief minister signalled in a late-evening interview to ABP Ananda that she was willing to go to any extent for a resolution.

“We have already done everything we could. What more do you want? You want to have me beheaded? If that’s what it takes, so be it. I don’t mind,” Mamata said during the interview. “But please, it’s my humble request, return to work and let the services resume for the sake of the common man.”

“They (the agitating junior doctors) did abuse me when I went to SSKM. But they are young boys and girls and I have forgiven them,” Mamata added, returning to her usual warm self hours after warning of eviction from hostels if the interns defied her four-hour deadline to return to the wards.

Some attributed the milder tone to the spate of resignation threats from doctors, the mushrooming of solidarity movements outside Bengal, reactions in the mainstream and social media and the sentiments within Trinamul. A post by the daughter of Firhad Hakim, Calcutta mayor and a close aide to Mamata, questioning the government had drawn intense attention during the day.

However, by then, Mamata had also made a political point — that she was fighting for poor patients and their plight had provoked her outburst. “I went to SSKM on my way to Nabanna after hearing the patients were crying in the absence of any treatment,” she said.

Soon after the confrontation at SSKM, the chief minister sent a hand-written letter to senior doctors and professors, underscoring the need to take care of poor patients who are coming from different districts.

Around the same time, the lock on the main gate of the emergency ward of Burdwan Medical College and Hospital, the site of a violent clash 24 hours ago, was smashed with a sledgehammer so that emergency services could resume.

The never-before-seen image of the hospital being “secured” (as a doctor put it) is certain to be cited by Trinamul as a sign of Mamata’s resolve to stand by the poor.

The thrust on poor patients was also an oblique warning to the junior doctors that they would be held accountable should something unfortunate befall those coming in search of treatment.

At the same time, by launching an all-out attack on the youngsters and describing some of the interns as “outsiders”, Mamata risked further alienating the educated class in Bengal at a time the BJP is courting that constituency and snapping at Trinamul heels.

She also hinted at a tweak in legislation to ensure fewer medical students from outside the state got an opportunity to enrol in Bengal’s state-run medical colleges.

Since the beginning of the crisis, triggered by Monday night’s attack on junior doctors at NRS Medical College and Hospital following a patient’s death, one of the agitators’ chief demands was a sympathetic statement from Mamata addressing their concerns about security in state-run hospitals. Her approach at SSKM was diametrically opposite this demand.

However, after her evening interview, many in Trinamul heaved a sigh of relief, saying this was the correct way forward. “Had she adopted this tone in the afternoon, the situation would not have threatened to spiral out of control,” a Trinamul politician said.

Sources close to her said they wished she had adopted such an approach on Tuesday itself or Wednesday.

Party sources said that messages were being repeatedly sent to the chief minister to reach out to the agitators and resolve the crisis. When she arrived at SSKM, many in her party had hoped she would speak to the agitating doctors and assuage their concerns.

“But she went ballistic…. Had it not been for the evening interview, the afternoon’s developments could have compounded the crisis,” a Trinamul MP said.

Referring to the interview, another party source said: “Thank God, she did it. I hope the situation will move towards normality now.”