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India's Chanakyas | A Wily Old Fox, Poetry And A Hot Cup Of Tea -- Mamata Banerjee's Heady Mix

Mamata Banerjee's inner circle includes 75-year-old Manik Mazumdar, the man who helped Trinamool oust the once rock solid Left Front government in West Bengal.

India's Chanakyas | A Wily Old Fox, Poetry And A Hot Cup Of Tea -- Mamata Banerjee's Heady Mix
Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee
India's Chanakyas | A Wily Old Fox, Poetry And A Hot Cup Of Tea -- Mamata Banerjee's Heady Mix

Epang opang jhopang, reads a limerick penned by Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The words are gibberish but in the book of rhymes for children called Ajob Chhora they are meant to be precisely that. The limerick, perhaps, opens a window to the workings of the maverick leader who appear to seek order in the chaotic world of Bengal politics. Or look for a common thread in the diverse voices of her inner coterie, to guide the Trinamool Congress through the hurly burly of governance and elections. Elections: Number Game

Every evening, as Banerjee—most prefer to address her as Didi—retu­rns to her Kalighat home in south Calcutta, the Trinamool boss’s backroom men and women troop in one by one. But before all that, her Man Friday for many years, Manik Majumdar, 75, comes in with a piping hot cup of her favourite Darjeeling tea and ‘jhalmuri’—puffed rice garnished with onions and green chillies.

Majumdar switches on the television for Banerjee, who loves watching Bengali TV serials; she surfs the channels in between commercial breaks to catch up with the latest national and international news. Prominent among those who attend the late evening discussion include party national general secretary Subrata Bakshi (in pic), Calcutta mayor and fellow cabinet colleague Firad ‘Bobby’ Hakim and her nephew Abshishek. Also in attendance is TMC women’s wing chief and state minister Chandrima Bhattacharya, the only women member in the party’s candidate selection committee, and Mala Roy, a constant companion of Mamata and chairperson of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, who has replaced Bakshi as the party candidate in the South Kolkata LS seat. RS member Derek O’Brien also comes in to chalk out poll strategy, says a senior TMC leader.

Mamata, who ended the Left’s long reign in 2011, is facing one of her toughest electoral battles in the forthcoming polls but the Bengal satrap hardly breaks a sweat as she conducts the brainstorming sessions. Bakshi’s decision to opt out of the electoral fray is a calculated move by the party chief. “At a time, when the electoral paradigm is heading for a Trinamool-versus-BJP binary in Bengal, Didi’s strategy is to put Bakshi at the helm of campaign strategy rather than contest the polls,” says a political analyst.

An insomniac, Banerjee loves to play Rabindra Sangeet on her harmonium late into the night, says senior journalist Sudip Roychoudhury, who also recounts an anecdote from a campaign trail in Purulia in 2006. “We were staying at the same hotel and Didi, after wrapping up a hectic day of campaigning, called everyone to her room and asked us to sing a song each…the soiree went on till early next morning,” he recalls.

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