Despite the negative publicity she has been receiving for her various antics as West Bengal chief minister, the feisty Mamata Banerjee‘s ability to lead lightning fast movements on any issue can never be doubted.
The Left Front (LF), which held power in the state for 34 years from 1977 to 2011, discovered the fact to its peril as Banerjee led a series of intense movements to unseat it from power. The LF, now the main opposition, got a taste of Banerjee’s quick reflexes yet again on the recent petroleum price hike issue.
Even as the LF and the various mass organisations of its constituents were busy chalking out details of a strong mass movement after the central government- owned oil companies raised petrol prices sharply, Didi’s men were already on the street protesting the hike.
Within an hour of the announcement Thursday by the Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) labour arm, the Centre of Indian Trade Union, that demonstrations would be held outside the district magistrate offices, Trinamool leader and railway minister Mukul Roy was leading a large procession from South Kolkata’s Hazra Crossing despite a scorching sun.
A day later, LF partners held a meeting and decided its frontal organisations would protest from May 26 to May 31 in all districts of the state.
Again, no sooner had LF chairman Biman Bose finished his media conference than news trickled in from Trinamool Bhavan (Trinamool Congress headquarters) that Banerjee herself would lead a protest march Saturday. Alongside other Trinamool bigwigs, Banerjee is set to walk seven kilometres from Jadavpur to Hazra to put pressure on the union government to roll back the hike.
Banerjee has a twin mission. If, bowing to the countrywide protests, the central government announces a partial cut in the raised prices, she can claim that it was due to the pressure applied by the Trinamool, the second largest partner in the Congress-led central dispensation United Progressive Alliance.
Second, not prepared to concede any political space to her arch-rivals communists, adept at whipping up mass sentiments on such issues, Banerjee also wants to take the wind out of the sails of the opposition that has been mocking at her protests.
“She wants to have the best of both worlds. She is taking people for a ride,” CITU state president Shyamal Chakraborty said, referring to Banerjee’s comment that her party would rail against the hike but not pull out of the central government.
Banerjee on her part has said the protests will continue.
But even while fast out-manoeuvring the opposition on an important political issue, the Mamata government had to beat a retreat on renaming Indira Bhawan – a government guesthouse in posh Salt Lake – after poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.
The sprawling Indira Bhawan – built in 1972 primarily to lodge then prime minister Indira Gandhi during an All-India Congress Committee session – had served as the residence of chief minister Jyoti Basu since 1989.
Even after Basu retired in 2000, he continued to stay in the bungalow in lieu of Rs.8,800 as rent paid by the party leadership. It was Basu’s home till his death in January 2010.
Months after taking over the reins of the state, Banerjee had announced her plans to convert it into Nazrul Bhavan – to honour the revolutionary Bengali poet. The building was to house a research centre and a museum on Nazrul, regarded as the national poet of Bangladesh.
But the move enraged the Congress, a partner also in her government. The Congress organised a series of protest meetings and rallies against the decision.
“It is part of Banerjee’s effort to erase any public memory of Indira Gandhi and the Congress in the state,” alleged Congress MP Deepa Dasmunshi.
Finally, the Banerjee government announced earlier this week that the nomenclature of Indira Bhawan will not be changed and the Nazrul museum and research centre would come up at Rajarhat, another satellite town.