December 02, 2020
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Calcutta Corner

Mamata's call for a third alternative has been replaced by the slogan of "do it alone"

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Calcutta Corner
Calcutta Corner

Do It Alone
After the Anna Hazaare fiasco in Delhi, Mamata Banerjee returned to Calcutta and declared that Trinamool Congress will be the third largest party in the country after Congress and BJP. Far from looking the least bit embarrassed by the royal snub she received from Anna (for those just tuning in: the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazaare ditched the Bengal chief minister at the last minute after announcing a mega-rally in Delhi's Ramlila Maidan), Mamata almost looked jubilant, as though returning from a victorious trip, when she landed at the Calcutta airport. As everyone – from her friends to her foes – cringed from the shame-quotient inherent in the Delhi episode she seems to be above it all. Call it being in denial, shamelessness or being thick-skinned, but there is no denying that the lady has the gumption to stand up tall against the worst kind of humiliation. In fact, I have rarely seen anyone uphold the principle of "turning adversity into strength" more exemplarily than Mamata Banerjee. The Anna incident seems to have made her more determined and resolute to fight alone. Without wasting any time speculating on the magnitude of the mortification she should feel – as most of us would be doing – she has plunged headlong into the election campaign in the state. And her call for "a third alternative" has been replaced by the slogan of "do it alone."

One And The Same
But I wish Didi would abandon those parts of her campaign speeches that club all sorts of unlikely people together. "CPI-M, Congress, BJP shobai ek," (The CPI-M, Congress and the BJP are one and the same thing), she has been declaring with authority during her recent campaign speeches. It still made some sense when way back in 2009 – the time of the last Parliamentary elections – the Maoist problem in the state had gone out of hand that she clubbed the outlawed ultra Leftists with the more moderate Leftists in the mainstream by ceaselessly interspersing her speech then with "CPI-M aar Maobadi ek." (CPI-M and the Maoists are one and the same). There was still a simple logic inherent in that argument with both stemming ultimately from the same Leftist ideology. But in her current election speeches the declaration that arch rivals, CPI-M, the BJP and the Congress are one and the same thing is a little hard to digest. We, the electorate, are wracking our brains trying to figure out the logic behind this argument but Didi's speeches are not throwing any further light on it. So to me it seems like a lot of time wasted as this particular line of thought seems not only confusing but also rather ineffective in creating any great disregard for the three parties under attack. If anything it projects a picture of stability, with us envisioning all three parties working together to provide the country with a much needed stable government. So Didi's spin doctors should tell her that she is in danger of such insinuations backfiring at her.

Footwear Fight
The footwear of politicians is suddenly creating a big buzz in the state this election season. Observers are claiming that you can apparently figure out the political party that a particular candidate belongs to by looking at his or her feet as they campaign across the state. With the exception of Mamata Banerjee herself who has never been spotted in anything other than rubber slippers (which, as far as foot gear is concerned, have gained more visibility and fame than Imelda Marco's many pairs of shoes), other politicians of the ruling TMC party's hot favourite seems to be branded sneakers. From party strongmen Partha Chatterjee and Madan Mitra to even the new TMC recruit, Sugata Bose, the Harvard professor who is contesting from the Jadavpur seat, all have had photographs of their branded sneakered feet splashed across front pages of local dailies. And electronic media, trailing their campaign routes have trained their camera as much on their faces as on their feet. 

As for most of the members of the CPI-M party, they swear by the unostentatious Bangali "choti" or "juto" (the everyday aam aadmi type footwear like the kind of thing Arvind Kejriwal might wear). For instance, the mousy brown or black leather-strapped, rubber-soled foot gear that former Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattarcharjee or his colleague, the Left Front chairman Biman Bose go around in. Distancing themselves from the TMC-type foreign branded sneakers, some Left members are said to have even called them "unpatriotic." 

Indeed, taking the footwear fight to new lows, a member of the CPI-M party has reportedly even scoffed at the TMC politicians' penchant for such footwear as symbolic of their lack of political pedigree. Then there is the Congress, which stays grounded in the more formal yet unfussy loafers and shoes. Central Railway Minister of State and MP from Bengal's Murshidabad district Adhir Chowdhury was caught stepping out in a pair of basic, non-descript pair recently for instance. The theory that the footwear reflects the party ethos (TMC: nouveau, flashy but fighting fit; Left: ageless and no-nonsense; Congress: serious and stable) is debatable but one thing is clear and that is that if any politician is caught with his foot in the mouth (as many recent examples come flooding to my mind) it will not be difficult to identify the party to which he or she owes allegiance.

For Gorkhaland
Darjeeling BJP candidate SS Ahluwalia has not only called the Gorkha demand for a separate state not unconstitutional, but has claimed that denying them the right to do so is not correct. Observing that the Gorkhas are not wanting to secede from the country but asking for a separate state based on their identity, he said that he was committed to looking into that demand. Pitted against the TMC candidate, the popular soccer star Baichung Bhutia, who hails from the region, the BJP is clearly banking on winning the Gorkha vote by promising to look into the demand for separate statehood. However, Mamata Banerjee has ruled out the possibility of diving Bengal. Those who are against the division fear that if BJP comes to power in the Centre it might actually push through the demand, in spite of the Bengal government's objections, if it can command the numbers, as happened with Telengana.

Lost In Translation 
An English ad for hair nourishment tonic in local dailies: "Having no hair on head…but interested in using comb." It showed the photograph of a bald man holding a comb to his pate. Flummoxed about what it could possibly mean, I gathered that it was the direct translation of some Bengali saying. Indeed it was. The Bengali saying is: "Mathay nei chool, teri bagatey chai." Literally meaning a baldie aspiring for a chic hairdo, the saying is applied to those aspiring beyond their means or capabilities. A political rival of a contestant with visibly thinning hair has been making generous use of his Bengali idiom lately.

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