Mamata Banerjee knows her voters well. The evening she dropped Abdul Kalam's name on Sonia Gandhi's head as one of her choices as President, a quick "opinion poll" was conducted by this correspondent among hard-core Kolkata Bengalis. And it was the "apolitical" Kalam who emerged victorious, way ahead of others. Some, however, wanted erstwhile Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi as President, another "apolitical" man who would be able to bring dignity to a largely ceremonial post. Somnath Chatterjee's name flummoxed everyone, so not much reaction was forthcoming, his Bengali surname notwithstanding.
Where does that leave Pranab Mukherjee, the man who will most likely be India's first Bengali President? "Having Mukherjee as a surname does not make Pranab a Bengali. What has he done for Bengal?" responded a writer friend. The state is in dire need of money and the Finance Minister has got identified as the man who is blocking the funds. The unhappiness with him is palpable in some quarters, especially among state government employees whose DA arrears have not arrived. Some attribute the non-arrival of the bailout money to the long-standing "personal animosity" between the Chief Minister and the veteran Congress leader. Others feel that Pranab Mukherjee will be wasted as President.
A rather condescending article by one of the national television divas in an English newspaper had politicians and intellectuals of the state unhappy and agitated. The article had sentences such as "soon Bengal will be the main supplier of domestic servants to the rest of India" and "today every great Bengali is either dead or living outside Bengal". The diva is a Bengali and lives outside the state.
Neutrality has gone missing from the media in Bengal, complain discerning readers and viewers. It's a case of "you are either with Mamata or you are against Mamata". The fulsome praise that the Chief Minister receives from newspapers that are Trinamool Congress' camp followers gets balanced out by the open hostility displayed by some big media outlets opposed to her. Truth becomes the casualty in the process.
People want Mamata Banerjee's government to put up a credible performance. But they are troubled by the "Great Mamata Circus". Didi's "antics" at the IPL victory rally dominate all conversations even now: how she grabbed Governor M.K. Narayanan by the elbow, shoved Railway Minister Mukul Roy aside, shouted instructions at state Sports Minister Madan Mitra... She has given rise to much internet humour, but not everyone is impressed with Didi's "Lalu moment". In the last one year they have read and heard too much against her. They feel part of the criticism is justified. "She talks too much. It'll do her and her party a world of good if she learns to keep quiet," said a radio jockey and television news anchor. "The problem is, not much is being written about the actual work that is happening. Everyone is getting distracted by one controversy after another."The Trinamool-run Kolkata Corporation has made the city cleaner and better lit. The sweepers are diligently cleaning the streets; a plethora of trident-shaped lampposts light up even the inside roads. Promenades have been built on both banks of the Ganga. Small neighbourhood water bodies neglected by the Left councillors have got flocks of geese and parks. Water is aplenty even in the height of summer and power cuts almost do not exist. At the same time, the Chief Minister, with her focus on serving "Ma Mati Manush", will not remove hawkers illegally squatting on the city's footpaths, beautification be damned. Taxi fares will also not be increased in spite of protesting howls from Kolkata's creaking taxi service. It is Didi at her best and worst.
Mamata Banerjee is a hands-on Chief Minister. She oversees everything personally, from extending school vacations because of the excruciating summer heat to cancelling all leaves of hospital workers to handle the rush of heat stroke victims.
An English newspaper headlined the Trinamool's good show in last week's municipal elections as "LINA". "Left is no alternative". What the headline missed was, the voters were in no mood to give the Left a chance at anything. "Mamata's party is unlikely to be defeated at least for the next ten years," predicted a college lecturer.
Kolkata Corporation workers are grumbling. They are unhappy that the Knight Riders were given gold medallions and chains by the corporation but they were not given anything, even though they collected Rs 384 cr in overdue property taxes. The newspaper that reported their gripe said that Mayor Sovan Chatterjee had promised to give each of them wristwatches worth Rs 1,200.