“I was really tempted to do a meme of Hillary Clinton and Mamata,” a friend told me. He was referring to the famous Texts from Hillary meme that has become quite the social media rage. But he decided not to do it.
“Who knows? Mamata might track me down and come after me,” he said.
Hillary Clinton might want to talk about FDI and Teesta water sharing with Mamata Banerjee but we’d all be better off if she shared the lesson of those memes instead. She shared that lesson and more in her candid interaction with Barkha Dutt in Kolkata this morning. In case, Mamata Banerjee was not watching, here are some helpful lessons for Didi from that encounter.
Lesson 1: A tough question does not have to be dismissed as a “shajano question” (fabricated question).
When Clinton was asked about the American double standard on Israel, she was slightly discomfited, especially because the question drew strong applause. But she answered it, stuck to her ground, yet did not run down the young woman who asked it. Instead like a true politician she quickly made it about the issue she was more comfortable with. The question was about Israel but her answer was about Iran. “The principal threat is a nuclear armed Iran,” she said forcefully. What about that Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that Iran has signed, but Israel has not? “We have not been able to convince India to sign the NPT,” she said deftly, with a wry smile.
Lesson 2: Disagreement does not mean you are the enemy.
“No two people agree on everything,” she told Barkha Dutt. “No two great countries will agree on everything. But we talk about everything. Nothing is off the table.” Clinton said that is what gives her great confidence in the relationship between India and the US. Mamata would do well to remember that many of the people who criticise her these days also want the best for the state she now leads. There are many who want to see her fail but there are many more who criticise because they care. “You have to take criticism seriously but not personally,” she said. “The critics might have a lesson for you.”
From your mouth to Didi’s ears, Secretary Clinton.
Lesson 3: Listen.
When someone asked a question, Clinton leaned forward and looked attentive. She did not scold the questioner. She thanked them for raising the issue even if she disagreed with them. She paid attention. She nodded. She smiled. She did not chomp at the bit to cut them off or let annoyance play on her face as if that question is an imposition on her time. She treated every question with respect whether it was about jute as a fashion fibre, or a musician complaining about not enough cultural exchanges, or the bounty on the head of Hafiz Saeed. No one was made to feel stupid for asking a question.
Lesson 4: Think the big picture.
Hillary Clinton is Secretary of State. Mamata Banerjee is the Chief Minister of West Bengal. They each have their own concerns. One is worried about Iran’s nukes. The other is worried about paying the interest on her state’s loans. But I hope Didi was listening when Clinton talked about her vision of a “new Silk Road” one that might stretch from oil-rich Turkmenistan to Dhaka, where the port in Kolkata is “repaired and restored.” “We have to lift our heads up,” she said. “We cannot be preoccupied with only our internal problems.” Mamata has to deliver for West Bengal but Clinton was trying to nudge us into thinking about something bigger than only what’s good for Bengal. That does not come easy to Didi. “I am interested in hearing from the Chief Minister her vision,” Clinton said. So are we. We too want a vision that looks forward and does not just harp on the wrongs of the past 34 years.
Lesson 5: Smile. Laugh. Especially at yourself.
Unlike Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton was never known for any great sense of humour. But she showed that she’s learned to let her hair down a little. She can poke fun at her relationship with Bill Clinton – “we have great personal affection for India perhaps because we are argumentative people ourselves.” She can take jokes about “drunk texting the President” in her stride. When the Hillary memes went viral, she decided to join in as well. She found the creators, invited them to meet her and then joined in the fun. (Check out her submission here.) The contrast with Mamata and the cartoon could not be clearer. “A woman in politics has to have skin like a rhinoceros,” Clinton said, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt. Then she added that the jokes and barbs come with the territory. “You have to figure out how to deal with it, or don’t get out of bed,” she said.
Mamata, we hear, has lined up a slew of gifts for her American visitor – Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, a scarf from Shantiniketan, the collected works of Swami Vivekananda.
I don’t know what Hillary Clinton is bringing for Mamata Banerjee. A sense of humour is hard to pack but a copy of those Hillary texting memes would be very welcome indeed.