By Tirthankar Mitra
Chief minister, Mamata Banerjee’s sharp reprimand to district magistrate of North 24 Parganas, Sharad Kumar Dwivedi and other officials down the hierarchy when she found that the winter garments brought for distribution at a public meeting at a Hingalgunj yet to arrive certainly shook them up but also refurbished her image when it is being enveloped in shadows of successive scams. Indeed she badly needed to brush it up as it being tarnished have become a ongoing process with an Opposition strident in its criticism of cash for teaching jobs scam, central probe agencies swooping down on some her party leaders and of course at stinging observations of Calcutta High Court.
A government programme going off gear in the presence of the chief minister is enough reason for Banerjee to see red. After all, Banerjee has always identified her government and her party with herself.
If collective memory can be refreshed. one will recall Banerjee calling upon block development officers to call her up to remove any glitch in the administrative delivery system. It did not occur to her that by doing so these officials will be bypassing the administrative hierarchy.
On the eve of panchayat elections in the state early next year, Banerjee sought the people’s mandate before her second term asking the voters to vote for her party as if she represented all the candidates and asking them to keep in mind her unimpeachable integrity. She had little option left as some her senior party leaders were caught in the camera taking bundles of currency notes in what came to be known as Narada sting operation.
As she pulled up her officials for dereliction of duty, the chief minister unwittingly indulged in doublespeak. Having once declared herself to be the court of last appeal in the administration, she could hardly dissociate herself from its lapses.
At a first glance, the chief minister’s outburst was not an well thought out act; it was reflexive. It may earn her some kudos but it has its fall outs too.
Looking back, one finds several senior district administration officials have found themselves to be targets of her ire earlier. One readily recalls, the chief minister hauling the district magistrate of Purulia, Rahul Majumdar over the coals after a local Trinamool Congress leader alleged to her that revenue from brick kilns were going into the “pockets of a few officials”.
But then one cannot accuse the chief minister of being biased. She had pulled up party MP Mahua Moitra at a meeting at Krishnanagar asking her to follow the party line. She also hinted that posters alleging a local leader of corruption was an “inside job”.
In sum, these incidents are pointers to a “I am the boss” syndrome. But by the same yardstick, the chief minister cannot afford to absolve her person of the shortcomings of party and administration she identifies herself with.
Another aspect of the event of chief minister distributing winter garments needs to be brought under the scanner. If she felt it would render a personal touch it needs to be pointed out that it is reminiscent of a senior member of a local club distributing clothes among economically challenged populace during one of the days of the state’s biggest festival – Durga puja.
Her predecessors be it Siddhartha Sankar Ray, Jyoti Basu or Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee were never known to be involved in such pious acts. But if Banerjee feels that this is part and parcel of her functioning style, so be it.
Cutting across ideological divide, Banerjee’s detractors in BJP, CPI(M) and Congress feel it is a diversionary tactics to move the public focus from the scams. With chief secretary, H K Dwivedi sharing the podium together with some of her party leaders, it sends a message which boils down to reducing officials and party leaders to servitude.
More unpleasant truths were in store for the chief minister who lunched with a family in a village. You have given it, pat came the reply from a village woman at whose home while partaking her lunch the chief minister asked her why the rice was hard.
The chief minister also learnt of scarcity of water and instructed to make arrangement for it in a week. If Banerjee would do some introspection, she would have stumbled across the fact that her much vaunted schemes like Duare Sarkar ( Government at your door) is not living upto its name.
Lunching with a villager’s family, walking into a local school and interacting with the students provided photo opportunities to the lensmen during the day. It also placed before the chief minister a rare chance to have a second look at her style of functioning and a window to have a good look at how the people in the back of beyond in West Bengal lived. (IPA Service)