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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 8 New Delhi February 9, 2019

Street-fighter Mamata

Sunday 10 February 2019, by Humra Quraishi

MUSINGS

Mamata Banerjee is indeed a fighter. The latest political developments taking off from West Bengal, where she came up with that piercing shrill cry to halt the BJP-RSS moves, is only a continuation of her determined effort to keep the Right-wing at bay, away from wrecking communal strife and havoc in her State.

In fact, in the recently launched book on her, ‘Didi—The Untold Mamata Banerjee (Penguin), author Shutapa Paul focuses on the political graph of Mamata Banerjee writ large in her determination to be a political fighter. Also, her firm resolve to remain secular, trying her utmost to halt any of the divisive tactics of the Hindutva brigades.

Yes, she comes across as a formidable force. Not to be bullied by any of the Right-wing tactics. To quote from this book—“Two years since her second conquest in 2016, today, Mamata is sure she that she has a new adversary. The growing influence of the BJP in the State has been bothering her. The national party has conquered almost the entire North-East and it greedily eyes States such as Bengal. Didi knows that the next election will not be a cakewalk. However she is not new to enemies. She has fought formidable political adversaries all her life. West Bengal’s only woman Chief Minister and for that matter the State’s sole woman politician of repute, toppled thirty-four years of Left Front rule in 2011, and brought an entire regime to its knees—an unthinkable feat a few years ago.”

Perhaps, Mamata Banerjee’s childhood paved the way for her to be drawn towards politics as her father, Promileshwar, was an active Congress supporter, “who allowed his office to be used for party meetings. Local Congress leaders would come home regularly for tea, much to Mamata’s delight. She would listen to endless tales of the Indian freedom struggle and their revolutionary ideas. She would willingly prepare home-made glue to paste their posters. It was during this impressionable age that Mamata learnt about both the Congress and the Communists.”

And along the expected strain right from the student days Mamata’s activism paved the way for political battles. In her memoirs she says that she would often take her books to the protest sites, and if arrested, study in the police lock up. “Mamata has famously been referred to as a ‘street fighter’, a nomenclature that is not unjustified. ‘Fighting for our lives on the streets of Calcutta was something we did, 330 out of 365 days in a year. Everyday there were protests, meetings and slogan-shouting. Everyday there was violence,’ she says. Under Subrata Mukherjee’s leadership, the Chhatra Parishad organised a slew of protests between 1978 and 1983; Mamata played a central role in almost all the agitations whether it was against Jayaprakash Narayan or Farooq Abdullah.”

 And now, in 2019, she could well play the kingmaker. This latest book on her bares out, in an uncomplicated way, why chances are strong of her going strong! “Mamata knows that winning West Bengal was only a battle; she must prepare for war if she wants to retain power. The general elections of 2019 can see her play kingmaker, she is aware. She is the only regional leader who can claim to have that kind of clout. Jayalalitha is no more and Nitish Kumar has changed over to the NDA. 2018 also witnessed the demise of another pedagogue of Dravidian politics, K. Karunanidhi. With the Congress showing signs of resurgence, and regional parties agreeing to forge a Federal Front, Mamata is more than aware that if she gets her electoral mathematics right, she could play a decisive role in the next Lok Sabha polls...”

And as we talk and write and discuss the upcoming elections, I wonder why we seem to bypass the hue and cry about the EVMs. Can they be manipulated? And if yes, then the extent of damage they can heap on the very democratic structure and on all our hopes to get rid of the Right-wing rule! Why are cries to get back the ballot papers not getting shriller and louder by the day? They should!

Leaving you with this verse of Mohammad Iqbal —

“Man’s weapons in life’s battles are three;/

Conviction that his cause his just/

Courage to fight for it till eternity/

Compassion that embraces all humanity.”

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