“Love marriage or arranged marriage?” That’s the eternal question put to the women who come to play the Didi No. 1 game show on Bengali television. The other day one nervous contestant nodded yes to both amidst peals of laughter from the television audience. “Sorry, I forgot,” she said sheepishly.
That’s pretty much the state of the Congress-Trinamool alliance these days. It might have started as a love marriage. Or perhaps it was always an arranged marriage. Either way no one remembers because these days it’s just become a marriage of inconvenience. Yet both are stuck in it. One needs the money. The other needs the support.
The going, going, not going drama of Mamata Banerjee’s plans to attend the chief minister coronations in the durbars of Chandigarh and Lucknow were pretty much viewed by the Congress as a sort of swayamvaram tour by Mamata.
Mamata basically let it be known that there were plenty of other suitors in town, that her dance card was full and frankly, my dear, she didn’t give a damn if the Congress felt spurned. Why, Prakash Singh Badal was even offering to send an aircraft to fly her over to Chandigarh.
A miffed Congress quickly delivered a little lesson of marital etiquette via its spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, reminding Didi that she was not a single woman.
“Social interactions with strangers by those in partnerships is permissible but obviously if things go beyond the normal boundaries of social courtesy, it would become immoral.”
That means in marriage counseling-speak, a little flirtation is OK, but you cannot sleep with anyone else, certainly not the enemy.
In case anyone missed the point, Singhvi reiterated it while denying it and even invoked Sita, the paragon of wifeliness.
“I am being misquoted,” he said. “I only said it would be immoral only if someone crossed the Lakshman rekha. That is not issuing warning to Mamata.” He chided the media for making much ado about nothing. “Her going or not going should not be read as if it is pregnant with all kinds of meaning.”
A pregnancy test, a Lakshman rekha, immoral interactions with strangers — could this turn into any more of a bedroom farce playing out in broad daylight.
“We have no need to learn about propriety from the Congress,” sniffed Trinamool leader Sukhendu Sekhar Roy. Shakeel Ahmed, the Congress general secretary in charge of West Bengal hurriedly came to meet Mamata and told the press he was sure the alliance was still majboot. Finally it needed Manomhan Singh to placate the restless partner. MMS called Mamata and promised that she was indeed Number One in the UPA’s affections. Pranab Mukherjee promised Mamata that MMS would talk to her directly to resolve economic package issue.
That finally did the trick, at least for now. “Just spoke to Mamatadi,” tweeted her MP Derek O’Brien. “Was keen to make the trip to Ch’garh/L’now but now she’ll be in Bengal on opening day of Assembly for Guv address.” As if in all this marital wrangling, she’d forgotten about that little prior engagement. “These programs were known for long,” a Trinamool MP told the Times of India. “By accepting the invitations, she strategically positioned herself. She proved right: it sent Congress into a tizzy.”
Yet for all her bluster, Mamata cannot afford to walk out of this marriage. She doesn’t really want Muslim voters in the state to see television images of her sharing the stage with Narendra Modi. Also this is one marriage where there is no alimony after divorce. Anything she gets, she gets for staying in the relationship. So she just harps on being made to pay for sins she didn’t commit viz the debt incurred during the 34 years of Communist rule. But she’s made it clear that she’s in no mood to play dutiful wife for free especially now that the Congress is practically bedridden. Those Gharaonda days when Zarina Wahab spurned young suitor Amol Palekar to stand by her man, an older ailing Shreeram Lagoo are long over. “Tumhe ho na ho, mujhko to itna yakeen hai, Mujhe pyar tumse nahin hain, nahin hain” Mamata has made clear. But we can still talk about restructuring debt.
Times Now Bengali television news in Kolkata even showed a little cartoon film to chronicle the twists and turns of this romance gone wrong. In it Manmohan Singh is sitting in a wheelbarrow painted in the colours of the Congress. Mamata Banerjee is pushing the wheelbarrow while she sings “Tumi to swapner saathi go aamaar (you are the companion of my dreams).”
“But where are you taking me to?” warbles back Manmohan Singh. She smiles sweetly.
Showers of petals fall all around them as she sings “String these into a garland and wear it around your neck, for when I am no longer with you.”