Mamata beeps SMS of subtle shift
|ARNAB GANGULY AND KINSUK BASU|
Calcutta, May 11: Mamata Banerjee today asked her party leaders to follow several guidelines, some of which suggested that the chief minister is indirectly acknowledging the adverse fallout of recent controversies and is seeking to avert a replay.
The chief minister also made an unusual request— "do not seek appointment through SMS" — that appeared to reflect a realisation after one year in power that governance does not mean micro-managing each and every issue that crops up.
Most topical among the directives is the one that asked party leaders not to create disturbances in educational institutions (see chart).
An initial wave of campus anarchy and a former MLA's alleged attack on a teacher — which prompted an audacious and astounding defence from Writers' premises by a minister — had overshadowed or neutralised some initiatives the government had undertaken to clean up the education mess.
"Political leaders should not go to colleges, schools, police stations, block development offices and create disturbances. You are political people. You have intelligence. Apply your mind. Discuss within the party. Don't do anything that will turn people hostile," the chief minister told a meeting of Trinamul officials and elected representatives today.
Wrapped in another exhortation to "follow the people" was a statement that "amader acharan thik korte hobe (we have to correct our behaviour)" — the closest Mamata has come yet to an admission that some corrective measures are needed. "For the actions of one or two members, the entire party can't get a bad name. I won't allow that," she added. The chief minister had earlier issued similar warnings against extortion syndicates but reports from the ground suggest the absence of follow-through action.
However, standing amid party faithful, Mamata played up to their expectations and did not betray any sign of remorse over specific instances, especially one that tarnished the government's image the most. The chief minister broke her silence on the arrest of a Jadavpur professor for circulating an email that lampooned her, insisting that the image was not a cartoon but part of an attempt at "character assassination". ( )
Mamata's appeal against text messages betrayed the uncommon pulls and pressures — largely an outcome of her ability and willingness to connect with the people — under which she is working.
In rest of India, few chief ministers are expected to spell out that text messages demanding appointments should not be sent, especially at unearthly hours. But such a diktat becomes a necessity in Bengal whose chief executive takes pride in directly connecting with every individual and handling every problem herself.
"SMS kore amaar appointment chaiben na. Ratri ektar samay SMS kore samay chaichhe. Bolchhe amake oi samaytai dite hobe. Dine 500 SMS-er jabab dite parbo na(don't seek appointments with me through SMS. Even at 1am, I get text messages seeking appointments. The sender says he has to be given the appointment at exactly the hour he wants. I cannot respond to 500 SMSes a day)," Mamata said.
The chief minister listed the alternative channels through which messages can be conveyed to her. "In case of any problem, get in touch with Mukul (Roy). If Mukul is busy in Parliament, then Bobby (Firhad Hakim). If Bobby is not available, then Madan (Mitra) or Saugata (Roy) or Purnendu (Bose) or Malay (Ghatak). They will pass the message to me," she said.
These changes may not appear noteworthy but they do represent a change, compared with the initial days at Writers' that were marked by late hours and surprise visits to hospitals on way to work.
But of late, a Trinamul leader pointed out, she is more "settled" and is sticking to a more "regular" routine.
Earlier, she would stay till well past 9 at night and keep her ministers waiting as well. "Now she leaves by around 7 at night after reaching Writers' around 11.30 in the morning," a minister said.
The chief minister now mostly follows the timetable drawn up by her secretariat. "Mamata's appointments are mostly scheduled now," said a senior minister. He added with a chuckle: "She no longer goes off on a sight-seeing spin all over the city on her way home."
That does not mean Mamata is cut off. For instance, during the Rabindra Jayanti celebrations at Cathedral Road on Tuesday, Mamata repeatedly stepped outside the shamiana and met people on the road, checking whether they were enjoying the programme.