By Tirthankar Mitra
Time was when politics in West Bengal was studded by luminaries Kiran Shankar Roy and Hiren Mukherjee known for their erudition and courtesy towards their political opponents who were never considered to be enemies. The tradition eroded over the years as politeness took a back seat and bitter words were exchanged in the political arena.
Motor mouths increasingly started replacing persons of eminence. But the situation seems to have reached its nadir when derogatory remarks were hurled at the first citizen of the country-President Droupadi Murmu.
Coming from state minister for correctional homes and veteran Trinamool Congress leader, Akhil Giri the allegedly belittling remarks about the President’s looks landed TMC and this leader into a soup. Apart from disrespect towards the first citizen, the ruling dispensation in West Bengal is headed by a woman who is the first woman chief minister of the state, Mamata Banerjee.
Just as a squirming Trinamool leadership was desperately searching for a fig leaf for a cover-up, a not dissimilar repartee from leader of the Opposition, Suvendu Adhikari provided the ruling dispensation a solid plank for a counter attack. Adhikari put foot in his mouth saying that he kept state minister, Birbaha Hansda under his shoes.
Breaking silence after her Cabinet colleague’s remark, chief minister, Banerjee apologised and asked whether the BJP leadership. In a canny political move she asked whether BJP will censure Adhikari.
From the Trinamool’s view point the two remarks have drawn level. What appeared to bean one-sided match against TMC suddenly became an even playing field as both the President and the minister were women who belonged to the tribal community.
Political observers and social scientists are both involved in a search for the genesis of the remarks. The toss up is between the remarks being a part of political slugfest or the outburst of a patriarchal society towards two women achievers emerging from a weaker socio-economic background.
This is not the first time when derogatory remarks have been made towards a woman political opponent. Mamata Banerjee had been the target of these broadsides ever since she became the most strident voice of the Opposition in the state after she pulled off a shock victory against Somnath Chatterjee in Jadavpur parliamentary constituency in 1984.
Matters came to a head during the last days of Left Front government when Benoy Konar and Anil Bose, senior CPI-M leaders both used intemperate language to lambast Banerjee which did not go down well with many of their own supporters. This is in stark contrast to the remarks of the then chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’ when his take on Banerjee and Congress chairperson, Sonia Gandhi was asked for.
Even as such courteous political gestures have been junked, the powers that be did some fishing in troubled waters. Loud demonstrations were organised by BJP in parts of tribal belt of the state in the wake of Giri’s remarks.
This was in keeping with the run-up to next year’s panchayat polls. The ruling dispensation is chary of the ripple effect of Giri’s off -the-cuff remark about the President while the saffron camp is unwilling to let it go to ensure a drift in the tribal population votes towards it in the rural polls.
Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram and Midnapur (West) in Junglemahal shots are called by the tribals in the elections. The situation is not dissimilar in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, North and South Dinajpur and Malda where tribals constitute almost 25 per cent of the populace.
In 2019 parliamentary elections, while BJP made its presence felt but TMC recovered its lost ground in 2021 Assembly polls. With honours even now, all eyes are on the panchayat elections.
The ruling dispensation has not lost any opportunity to woo the tribal voters as during the Durga puja there was a theme of “Jungle Kanya” whose brand ambassador was minister, Birbaha Hansda. With chief minister, Banerjee descending from the podium and dancing with the tribals, one will have to wait awhile to see who has the last laugh. (IPA Service)