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Mamata Banerjee is the Real 'Gully Girl' of Bengal, And She is Loving the Street Fight With BJP

While the ruling BJP at the Centre has strongly condemned Mamata Banerjee and called her stunts "appalling attempts" to obstruct justice in a corruption case, it should not be very surprised.

Rakhi Bose | News18.com@theotherbose

Updated:February 5, 2019, 2:15 PM IST
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Mamata Banerjee is the Real 'Gully Girl' of Bengal, And She is Loving the Street Fight With BJP
News18 Creative by Mir Suhail.
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New Delhi: You can take Didi off the streets but you cannot take the streets out of Didi. And the couple of days in Kolkata have been a sharp reminder of the origins of its maverick chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is often addressed in Bengal by that very romantic moniker – street fighter.

High drama unfolded in the state capital since Sunday night when Kolkata Police under the helm of a shawl-clad Banerjee detained a team of CBI officers who had landed in Kolkata to arrest KP Commissioner Rajiv Kumar in relation the chit-fund scam.

According to sources, Banerjee had long foreseen a CBI offensive against her aides in Bengal. Not one to take things lying down, Banerjee was quick to rise to the occasion.

After reaching Kumar’s house and thwarting his arrest which she claimed was illegal as CBI had no warrant or previous state clearance, Banerjee instantly reached a familiar spot – the corner outside Metro cinema hall in Esplanade — to start an indefinite ‘dharna’ - yet another of the many she had led from the exact spot over her years in the Opposition.

Since then, things have moved fast. Even though Supreme Court has said that Kolkata police chief Rajeev Kumar can’t be arrested but has to appear before CBI, Banerjee has refused to budge from the makeshift dais. She even held a cabinet meeting with her ministers from the protest site on Monday.

While the ruling BJP at the Centre has strongly condemned Banerjee and called her stunts appalling attempts to obstruct justice in a corruption case, it should not be very surprised.

After all, it was as a partner of the National Democratic Alliance that Didi started the historic 26-day hunger strike against the then CPI-M led state government — a move that would ultimately spell the fall of the 34-year-old Left regime in Bengal.

Didi and the streets – a tempestuous affair

Banerjee is in her elemental best when cast in the role of Opposition, and the political agility with which she maneuvered the CBI offensive into a head-on fight against the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre, is further proof.

The fact that she spent no time in hitting to the streets with a plastic chair and a diminutive shawl, takes one back to the days of the leftist government, when the production of a certain small car spelt its doom.

The 2006 hunger-strike against the Buddhadeb Bhattacharya government allowing the production of Tata Nano in Singur catapulted Didi to political stardom. Didi opposed the setting up of the factory as well as a Special Economic Zone in Singur. A second ‘dharna’ in 2008 made sure both Tata and the Left Front were booted out of the state for good.

But Didi and dharnas go even further back.

Political journalists in Bengal recall, previously with derision and now with flippant admiration, that cold January day in 1993 when a determined Banerjee marched up to Writers’ Building, the erstwhile central administrative block of the government, to protest outside then CM Jyoti Basu’s office against the alleged rape of a mute girl by a CPM leader. She was violently pulled out by her hair and thrown out to the streets after the CM refused to meet her.

Strong-arming her way to the top

Rallies and dharnas are not the only thing that make Didi the perfect expression of a street fighter.

In Dec 1998, Banerjee hit the headlines for allegedly attacking senior Samajwadi Party leader Daroga Prasad Saroj inside Parliament in broad view of media persons and other politicians. Sensing the possible introduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill, she allegedly pulled him by the scruff of his collar in a bid to restrain him from reaching the Speaker’s podium. The new TMC party chief had said then that she would not allow the House to transact further business unless the Bill was taken up.

Another (in)famous instance of Didi taking to street tactics to prevent Opposition was when she threw herself on the road in front of socialist leader Jayprakash Narayan’s convoy in Bengal. According to some media reports, she even got on top of his car’s bonnet and jumped in order to prevent him from entering to campaign against India Gandhi in the years before the Emergency.

No stranger to temper tantrums

Banerjee shares a prickly relationship authority. Apart from other politicians, even Lok Sabha Speakers have often been on the receiving end of her ire during heated Parliamentary debates.

Not a stranger to temper tantrums, she once hurled her shawl at Speaker PA Sangma to protest against the alleged deprivation of Bengal in the Railways budget. In a later incident, she threw a sheaf of papers at Speaker and nemesis Somnath Chatterjee and ‘resigned’ from the session when he refused to talk about the issue of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. (An issue in which the CM today has managed a complete U-turn).

On the other hand, Banerjee was injured badly after a member of DYFI, CMP’s youth wing, attacked her with a stick during while she was leading a Congress rally in Kolkata’s Hazra road in August 1990. The attacker had hit Banerjee on the head and the then Congress leader had to spend a month in the hospital to recover from it. To this day, the CM brings up the incident even as the attacker sought her apology almost three decades later after Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011.

With a political career such as hers, it is no wonder that an imminent risk to her power and authority in the state has brought the designate ‘street-fighter’ right back to her element. And this time, she is not in the Opposition.

The past month has seen TMC participate in active mobilization of party cadres against the growing reach of BJP which performed better than it ever has in Bengal in the 2018 Panchayat elections. Just recently, the Mahagathbandhan rally in Bengal saw one of the biggest congregation of anti-BJP leaders and parties before the elections. Throughout last year and this, the party has made several attempts to block the BJP’s attempts to mobilize and address rallies in Bengal, the latest being Yogi Adityanath who had to resort to conducting the rally on phone after his chopper was denied permission to land on Sunday.

In the early days of Banerjee’s governance, one of the bigger questions posed by political analysts was whether the veteran Opposition leader can smooth into the transition to power. The first couple of years may have seen her struggling, with Banerjee throwing around words like ‘maoist’ and ‘shajano ghotona’ (fictitious event) at random against those who asked difficult questions. But a second poll victory later, no one is questioning her authority as the head of the state anymore.

The fact that Banerjee managed to use state machinery so completely to her advantage to stump an unprepared BJP in the CBI showdown and also garnered the support of all the state opposition parties by midnight shows she won’t play on the back-foot in this high-stakes political game.

And with Banerjee back in her former position of aggressive vindication comparable to that of the ruling party itself, this institutionalized poking of the dragon may end up costing BJP’s poll plans in Bengal.

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