New Year Resolution?
The year hasn't started well for the ruling party in West Bengal. First, a young man named Amirul Islam killed himself by setting himself on fire in front of a local police station, stating in his suicide note that he was driven to it by constant threats from the police for daring to take on a local thug who allegedly had connections with powerful politicians belonging to the ruling party. Apparently, Amirul was a crusader against rape in the area. But even before the public outrage surrounding his death and media spotlight on the politician-police-underworld nexus could die down, TMC found itself embroiled in another incident in which rowdy party supporters -- read former TMC MLA Arabul Islam -- had senior Opposition leaders -- read CPIM's Abdul Rezzak -- packing off to hospitals after beating them black and blue.
After Calcutta professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was bashed up by goons allegedly owing allegiance to the ruling party for circulating a caricature of the chief minister and then sent to jail instead of hospital, Bengal has ceased to be all that shocked by much. But the attack on a 72-year-old and the subsequent callous attitude of the administration (hospital authorities, reportedly acting on orders, had decided to discharge Mollah even though he complained of pain in his back, hip and knees, while the TMC leaders called it a ‘natak’) was something that the governor of the state -- MK Narayan -- took exception to. Without directly mentioning the incident, he called the recent events in Bengal, “a kind of hooliganism”.
Going by TMC’s track record, no one expected the party to take the criticism lying down. It was a matter of time before someone from the party issued a controversial retort. This time it was left to veteran TMC leader and Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee to do the honours. He sent out a veiled threat to the constitutional head of the state, warning him of dire consequences if he overstepped his limit in the future. Mukherjee’s comments generated another round of outraged reactions with the debate turning to a minister’s right to question and warn a governor. It compelled Mukherjee to finally come out and say he spoke because he was asked to do so. And when Mukherjee says he was asked to speak, there is only one person who can be doing that kind of asking. At any rate the ruling party was back in the thick of this embarrassing episode. But in all this, what is conspicuous by its absence is any direct comment from Didi herself. A New Year’s resolution?
Bengal’s biggest annual industrial meet, Bengal Leads, which started in Haldia earlier this week, too was a flop show this year, with most big names in the corporate world staying away. Missing in action were names like Tata (but obviously – remember Singur?) leaving Bengal’s own loyal industrialists -- Goenka, Dhanuka, ITC to save the day. Business and political analysts pointed out that the state government’s land policy (it is dead against getting involved in land acquisition for industry, having declared that the industries themselves will have to do the land acquisition) was a big turnoff for industrialists. The local media went to town virtually ridiculing the turn of events at the no-show event, with one newspaper calling it Bengal Pleads. Taking a dig at Didi, who began the program with songs, getting industrialists Sanjiv Goenka and CK Dhanuka to come on stage and croon and lip sync to the Tagore song Ekla Chalo Re – The Telegraph in a front page report came out with a list of names of songs that could be sung at future Bengal Leads meets. A few of them:
- When foreign investors make a beeline for Bengal: Aami chini go chini tomare, ogo bideshini
- If the Tatas come back to Singur: " You’re my pumpkin, pumpkin/Hello honey bunny"
- If Narendra Modi opens a factory in Bengal: Tumhi ho bandhu
Guess who is making the most of this situation? None other than former Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya who had tried to usher in an industrial era in Bengal. It is clearly his “I-told-you-so” moment. It’s another matter that his industrial drive -- associated with the aggressive and forceful land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram -- backfired and caused the Left to lose its traditional votebank and ultimately the Assembly elections. On the day that Bengal Leads started Bhattacharya capitalized on Bengal’s moment of embarrassment (Mamata was heard calling out to companies by name – “Anyone here from NTPC…keo achen?” asking whether any representative was present and no one was) and, in a rare public appearance since he lost the elections, addressed the people of Bengal. He ridiculed the new regime for the industrial “mess” that the state was in today. He questioned the claim that the state was bankrupt, asking how it was possible that the government was dishing out money to the local clubs -- to the tune of 40 crores. He lashed out at the administration for spending money on painting the state blue and white and installing trident street lamps.
Ghoti Vs Bangal
In Calcutta, the rivalry between soccer teams Mohun Bagan and East Bengal is as traditional as the friendly rivalry between the Bangals (Bengalis who hail from East Bengal – now Bangladesh) and the Ghotis (Bengalis who belong to West Bengal). Soccer teams may come and go but the clubs Mohon Bagan and East Bengal are the originals. They are like the Pakistan and India of cricket. No other match draws as much crowd and frenzy as a match between these two clubs. So when last month the All India Football Federation banned Mohun Bagan from playing in the I-League till the 2014-2015 season as punishment for refusing to play the second half of a match against East Bengal on December 9 last year (they refused after players were targeted by supporters of the other team), all hell broke loose with Mohun Bagan fans going on the rampage. But it seemed the AIFF was relentless. After days of anguish and heartbreak, Mohun Bagan fans are smiling again. The ban has been revoked this week. Even East Bengal fans are happy. One fan told me, “They maybe our rivals but it’s no fun playing without them.” True. Only a Ghoti can truly appreciate a Bangal and vice versa.
Sign of the Times
Spotted written behind a rickshaw:
Gelo du hajar baro
ja charbar ta charo
elo du hajar tero
(2012 is done…let go what’s gone…2013 is here…oh dear!)