Around 11-ish this morning, I figured the ‘khela’ was over. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had convincingly whipped the derrieres of heavyweight Bharatiya Janata Party netas – literally and figuratively. Kicking those derrieres, while seated in a wheelchair with her injured left foot in a cast, could not have been easy. But Didi scored! And India cheered. It was the only bright moment in our depressing Covid-saturated lives. Here’s why: Her convincing win gave us hope. And hope is the one thing that was totally missing during this terrible month that saw death and devastation like never before. Hope that with determination and courage, it is possible to vanquish evil.
When it became obvious Didi’s party was on a winning wicket, my spirits soared – after months, I bit into a piece of chocolate and allowed myself to smile. Not because I am a Didi fan. Oh no! But because I am an unapologetic BJP critic.
I decided to order 12 roshogullas online and distribute them to neighbours. And get some ‘jhaal muri’ for myself in honour of the lady who fought a fierce, ferocious battle against opponents with much more of everything than her – be it clout, money, muscle power, or people.
Despite it all, Mamata Banerjee stood her ground and showed them all. It was her wheelchair that eventually won the day for her.
Mamata’s wheelchair win
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s gigantic helicopter whirred above the unmasked faces of the vast crowds that marshalled for his rallies, a frail woman in a crumpled white saree with a blue border (reminiscent of Mother Teresa – the Saint of Kolkata), mocked the man and his might, while he crowed about being elated at the sight of the crowds. He obviously forgot the nation was reeling under a hideous Covid calamity. I guess that’s what cost MoSha — Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah — the state they were coveting as the ultimate feather in their cap. Had the BJP managed a win in West Bengal, India’s future would have been sealed this evening. But they lost – and Didi’s victory is going to rescript the narrative in 2024.
There is egg on several faces at the moment. There is childish pleasure in discovering how many pompous BJP gasbags lost! This is our country’s ‘jhaal muri’ moment — Mamata Banerjee is the jhaal muri of India. What do you mean you don’t know what jhaal muri is!? Eeeeeeesh – you must be a non-Bengali for sure. Learn to love Kolkata’s favourite streetside snack quickly, for soon it may travel to Delhi. CNN-News18 has already started projecting Mamata as the chosen one in 2024 – get used to it. Remember she had challenged those who attacked her after the dodgy accident, which put her injured lower limb in a cast, that with one leg she would conquer her own state, and with both, she will win Delhi.
Nobody at that crucial stage in the campaigning could have foreseen the starring role that the wheelchair would play later. Shrewdly, Didi converted the humble wheelchair into a chariot or a throne fit for a queen – it was upgraded and elevated, as she sat in it imperiously, and had her minions carry it around. It was pure theatre and her followers loved her all the more for it. She converted the injury into a trump card, and the wheelchair became a symbol of her opponents’ low-level bullying tactics and despotic ways.
A hard-won battle
We love symbolism in India and we get very ‘senti’ when we see someone like Didi, relentlessly and courageously taking on a party and two hefty men, far larger than her on all levels. Clearly, the voter in West Bengal was emotionally moved enough by the sight of their chief minister waging a heroic fight against bully boys who thought nothing of mocking her publicly ( “Didi O Didi “). Tch! Tch ! This was not ‘bhadra’ at all. Then came that crass taunt about her hitched up saree, with someone not terribly classy — BJP’s Dilip Ghosh — asking on national television why Didi can’t switch to sporting bermuda shorts instead of exposing her legs. The political discourse was decimated and reduced to petty name-calling, much to the disgust of voters.
Didi, herself, was no better and took every opportunity to needle ‘those men’ – the outsiders who had dared to enter Bongland and challenge a Bong bhadramahila! Double eeeeeeesh! Did these chaps really think true blue Bongs could be seduced that easily by their glib talk? Would bland dhoklas and theplas stand a chance against tongue-on-fire jhaal muri? See? It actually comes down to basics.
Never before has an important state election been fought on nothing more than emotional resonance. There were no issues, no values, no promises, no morality, no ethics, no principles as these two parties slugged it out, going for each other’s jugulars. Oh well then, Didi should put her tired feet up once the last vote is counted, and pat herself on the back for a hard-won victory – which was fought not just for her own state but on behalf of countless citizens who are pleading to be rescued from the BJP stranglehold. Didi’s win is their win. They’ll sleep better tonight believing change is possible and all is not lost yet. The nail-biting khela turned out to be a far bigger triumph than just that of a fiery woman taking on — and defeating — those who believed themselves to be invincible. There is hope. What happened in West Bengal is just the beginning. Remember: what Bengal does today, India does tomorrow.
The author is a columnist, social commentator, journalist and opinion-shaper. She has written 20 books. Views are personal.