Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of Bengal and avowed admirer of all things cultural, set out to prove the proverb wrong by calling an unnamed rival “s**a” during a speech telecast live and then sought to “withdraw” the swear word.
The word was part of the quiver from which she fired one arrow after another at the Centre, betraying disquiet that seemed more pronounced than her usual high-octane political responses to past crises.
The immediate trigger was last evening’s arrest of Srinjoy Bose, the second Trinamul MP in custody in the Saradha case.
Priming her cadres for a political battle on the streets, Mamata mentioned the possibility of the Centre imposing President’s rule in the state — a demand she used to make during her days in the Opposition.
“Everybody is scared of speaking out…. I dare you to impose Article 356,” Mamata said, portraying herself as a victim of multiple conspiracies. “We will battle it out…. Even Soniaji is afraid,” the chief minister said.
The fire and brimstone were understandably meant for the Trinamul rank and file who have reason to feel overwhelmed by the course the Saradha probe is taking.
But at one point, even by Mamata’s formidable standards of throwing tantrums, the chief minister appeared to have been carried away.
“Baire theke ese ke ek jon bole gelo A chor, B chor, C chor, D chor, E chor, F chor, G chor, H chor — aar tumi sadhu? S**a… naam-i jane na keu (Somebody came from outside and said A’s a thief, B’s a thief, C’s a thief, D’s a thief, E’s a thief, F’s a thief, G’s a thief, H’s a thief — and you are a saint? S**a… no one even knows his name),” Mamata said at Netaji Indoor Stadium while addressing party leaders and workers from Calcutta, Howrah and Hooghly.
As the leaders seated on the dais and the packed crowd at the venue burst into laughter, Mamata “withdrew” the word and came up with an uncommon reason for using it in the first place. The excuse was that the chief minister did not know the name of the critic who hails from outside the state.
“I withdraw the word. I shouldn’t have said it. Kintu naam keu jane na (But no one knows his name),” Mamata said.
The clarification was in order, considering the mirth the word had generated among the august line-up on the dais and their usual penchant to follow the leader in letter and spirit.
Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP and national spokesperson Derek O’Brien, who is also a quizmaster popular among schoolchildren, was among those seen in splits when Mamata used the word.
Asked for his response to the amusement on the dais, O’Brien directed this newspaper to his tweet, which read: “Have spent all my 11yrs in politics under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. After her speech today at Indoor Stadium, committed for another 50.”
The following are the key conspiracy theories cited by Mamata and a reality check:
Key ingredients: Saradha and secularism
“Ami Nehrujir programme-ey gechhi tai beshi kore bansh dao. Tumpai (Srinjoy’s nickname) ke tule nao, eke tule nao, take tule nao (I went to the programme to mark Jawaharlal Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary, so attack me. Arrest Srinjoy. Arrest this man, arrest that man),” Mamata said.
What Mamata meant was that the BJP-led Centre was trying to settle scores as, by attending the Delhi event earlier this week, she had lent her shoulder to an attempt to build a secular platform.
Reality check: In Delhi, the champion of secularism had one-to-one meetings with three BJP leaders — L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh — and none with leaders of the Congress, the host of the Nehru event.
Other than attending the Nehru event and meeting the three BJP leaders and President Pranab Mukherjee, Mamata was largely confined to the bungalow of Mukul Roy at 181 South Avenue.
A close aide had told this newspaper: “She had lots of adda: chatting and singing.” It is not clear why chatting and singing should cause alarm grave enough to activate a central plot to arrest an MP.
Key ingredients: Arrest and reduction of Rajya Sabha votes.
Srinjoy’s arrest, according to Mamata, was also an attempt by the BJP to reduce Trinamul’s strength in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling party doesn’t enjoy majority.
“They have to get the bills passed in the Rajya Sabha. The plan is to arrest some of the MPs and reduce the numbers. That is not going to help. Our MPs will vote,” Mamata said,
Reality check: Trinamul has 12 MPs in the upper House. If the votes are so precious, it is not clear why Trinamul suspended Kunal Ghosh, one of the 12 MPs, even before he was arrested and just when he had started speaking out against the leadership.
Unwittingly, Mamata’s reference to the Rajya Sabha votes has tickled Trinamul’s second rung of leaders who often take refuge in dark — and cathartic — humour. “Is Didi bracing for the arrests of some more Rajya Sabha MPs?” deadpanned a Trinamul leader.
Ingredients: Bombs and RAW agents.
“The Centre may have utilised RAW to plant the bomb (in Burdwan)…. Don’t forget that for 23 years I was in Delhi and I know who hatches conspiracies, who does what. I have run half the central government.”
Reality check: External intelligence agencies like RAW are accused of fomenting trouble in other countries — a charge that Pakistan usually levels. If RAW indeed planted the bomb in Burdwan, the Bengal administration frittered away a golden chance to nail the agency and the Centre when Mamata’s own police blew up the evidence in a hurry.
Narendra Modi: One of the key targets of Mamata today was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “He has spent more time abroad than in the country. The country has been sold to foreign powers…. Everybody is afraid to speak.
“Narendra Modi aashchhe tere, kokhon jabe sab kichhu here (Narendra Modi is on a headlong charge, O when will he return having lost all)?”
Mamata cannot be faulted for singling out Modi. It was Modi who had tormented Mamata the most on the Saradha scandal. He spoke the unspeakable on the Lok Sabha campaign, referring to the sale of Mamata’s paintings. The issue still touches a raw nerve — as was evident during this week’s television interview when Mamata threw the mike on being asked about the alleged price of a painting.
Amit Shah: “Amit Shah is the main conspirator,” Mamata said. “After coming to power, they have been behind riots in UP, Bihar and Maharashtra. They haven’t even spared Delhi, from where they are ruling.”
Mamata announced that she would lead a protest rally, with placards saying “the Centre calls us thieves, arrest us”, from College Square to the Dorina Crossing on Monday.
“Trinamul MPs will sit on a dharna at Parliament on November 25,” the chief minister said before rolling out a list of priorities.
The priority list includes bringing back black money, hastening electoral reforms, ensuring discussions on the insurance bill, FDI in retail, railways and defence and opposing plans to scale down the 100-day job scheme.
However, Trinamul will not attend Sunday’s all-party meeting on the eve of the winter session of Parliament. Tomorrow’s meeting in Delhi has been called “at short notice” and “we are not available at the BJP’s beck and call”, Trinamul said.