Touch me if you can: Mamata
Jhargram, Jan. 12: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today paraded bureaucrats to showcase the achievements of her government and reply to critics, throwing down a dare to “touch me if you can” for good measure.
“There is a saying in English, ‘Catch me if you can’…. I am saying, ‘Touch me if you can’,” Mamata told a gathering of over 10,000 people at the Jhargram Stadium in West Midnapore during the closing ceremony of the three-day Jungle Mahal Utsav.
The chief minister then called out to some of the senior-most officials in the state to place an impromptu development progress report on Jungle Mahal, much like the manner in which she had asked industrialists to commit in public if they would invest in the state at the Bengal Leads inauguration on Monday in Calcutta.
However, there was a difference between Monday and Thursday. If Mamata was in a jovial mood at the business meeting, she appeared angry today.
Without masking her displeasure at the criticism of the government — from a section of the media, her coalition partner Congress and the CPM-led Opposition — Mamata explained why she was fielding the senior officials to list the achievements of her government.
“I am not going to speak about the projects. I am a political person. People can say I am lying. The government officers are present here. I will ask them,” she said and began a quiz of the officials.
Her first question — about a bridge from Bharsaghat to Nayagram, which she had announced on July 12 — was directed at chief secretary Samar Ghosh, seated on the stage.
As a packed stadium — the spectators included members of the 710 clubs in Jungle Mahal that had participated in a football tournament in June — looked on, Mamata said the “tenders for the bridge have been floated” and asked Ghosh about the status.
Ghosh tried answering from his seat but the chief minister said: “You are a government officer. Please come and tell them.”
The chief secretary stepped forward, took the microphone and said the tenders had been floated.
The Q&A session continued as Mamata called out to other officials — health secretary Sanjay Mitra, West Midnapore district magistrate Surendra Gupta and director-general of police Naparajit Mukherjee. The questions ranged from an update on the work in progress at Jhargram hospital to the status of the recruitment of constables, home guards and volunteers.
The unusual exchange came in the middle of a difficult phase for the new government that had ridden to power around eight months ago with a thumping majority. The government has been drawing criticism in the past few weeks over the absence of any new breakthrough industrial project, farmer distress and campus violence largely blamed on Trinamul Congress supporters.
“Criticism is very easy. I am a common person. I am not God, Ishwar or Allah,” said Mamata, who has been touring districts across Bengal with senior ministers and government officials.
Jungle Mahal — a traditional Left bastion that fell under the spell of Maoists —has been a priority for her since she assumed office on May 20 last year. She had announced several projects during her last two visits in an attempt to restore peace and marginalise the Maoists, who have been active in Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore.
“Whatever I had said, I have done,” Mamata said at the beginning of her 30-minute speech during which she rolled out a list of other deliverables.
The chief minister today sent a firm message to the CPM-led Opposition to allow her to continue delivering development. “Don’t say the government is sleeping. Those who slept for 35 years should not ask questions now. Raise your voice 35 years later, I will answer. They can do whatever they want. I am not a quitter. I will continue to work for the people,” she said.
Mamata told the people of Jungle Mahal to maintain peace and leave the rest to her. There was no mention of the Maoists in her speech, though four rebels surrendered before the chief minister.
Mamata announced a bridge linking Jhargram and Lalgarh across Kansabati river and advocated patience. “Soil testing has already started. There is a system. After tenders are floated, it takes some time. Don’t start saying from tomorrow the bridge is not yet ready,” Mamata said.