Kolkata: From breaking into song at public rallies, to painting and poetry, and dancing with tribals during a mass wedding in Alipurduar district, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has often gone the extra mile when it comes to public outreach.
Her latest attempts to woo the people were on display during her four-day visit to the hills of North Bengal last week, when she was seen making puchkas — a popular snack in eastern India, known as pani puri or golgappa in other parts of the country — for children.
Last Thursday, she set out on a morning walk in Darjeeling, but took a detour to a roadside stall where she was seen preparing momos with an elderly woman.
While in Darjeeling, Mamata also visited vegetable shops and bought plants from women self-help group stalls.
On tour, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief has been known to make unscheduled visits to people’s homes — making chai or frying pakoras for the public, even distributing chocolates among children.
TV news cameras have recorded Mamata instructing her administrative officers including top police officers to make “surprise visits” to the areas under their jurisdiction. She has advised them to sit and have a cup of tea, buy the villagers tea, and connect with them.
A leader of the masses and with the masses!
Hon'ble Chairperson @MamataOfficial is seen with the locals of Darjeeling wrapping dumplings.
The heartwarming visuals remind us that our leader is not someone who sits in ivory towers, but who is a part of every family of Bengal. pic.twitter.com/8FdNLhV9at
— All India Trinamool Congress (@AITCofficial) July 14, 2022
Known as a grassroots leader, Mamata — a law graduate from Jogesh Chandra College in Kolkata — is also known to make occasional stops to buy vegetables while returning from the secretariat.
TMC councillor Kajari Banerjee said Mamata “lives a life like you and me. She is very grounded and leads a common life”.
“One day it was raining heavily and Didi was going somewhere when she saw a woman stranded due to the downpour along with her child who was returning from school. Mamata stopped her convoy, removed police officers from her vehicle and made space for them and ensured they were dropped home safely,” she added.
In the run-up to last year’s assembly polls, Mamata Banerjee was branded by her party as “Bengal’s own daughter”. In January, she sent ‘get well soon’ fruit baskets to Covid patients in Kolkata, including BJP leaders.
While the opposition dismisses Mamata’s outreach attempts as gimmicks, political analysts say this aspect of her personality has been noticed by voters.
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Participating in protests, cooking Kali Puja prasad
Apart from mingling with the public, Mamata has often been seen taking part in protests — from riding an e-scooter with minister Firhad Hakim on the Vidyasagar Setu to protest against rising fuel prices, visiting markets to learn about rising prices of vegetables, to hitting the streets against amendments to the Citizenship Act last year.
During Kali Puja, the chief minister often cooks the prasad or bhog that’s offered to the Goddess, preparing the food, alongside her sisters-in-law, at her Kalighat residence in Kolkata. When she returns to the assembly after the Diwali break, she brings homemade coconut laddoos for mediapersons as well as the staff at Vidhan Sabha in two large containers.
Her nephew Abhishek Banerjee has also been seen following in her footsteps. Last week, in Jalpaiguri, the TMC MP was seen having tea at a villager’s house and hugging a child.
West Bengal minister and TMC leader Chandrima Bhattacharya said “such gestures cannot be taught, this comes from within”.
“Mamata didi is a grassroots leader, she goes and stands with the people, and she loves it. These actions also inspire us because of the politics of humanity she practises,” she added. “Without people’s blessings, there can be no politics, and Mamata has a big heart.”
Udayan Bandhopadhyay, an associate professor of political science at Kolkata’s Bangabashi College, said “Mamata’s leadership pattern has been very different right from the inception”.
“Back in 1984, when she first fought in electoral politics, this mass leader side of Mamata was noticed and that continues. She mixes easily with the people,” he added.
“If you compare this to the erstwhile CPI (M) regime, the chief ministers followed strict protocols and at party events did what the party secretaries would tell them to do,” he said.
However, BJP leader Priyanka Tibrewal, who fought the Bhabanipur bypoll against Mamata last year, said her “gimmicks prove only one thing, that under her rule, West Bengal cannot develop beyond momo, puchka and chop”.
“She is trying to set an example for the unemployed youth of the state because there are no industries here, so this will be the survival strategy. Mamata talks big but she is a jack of all trades, master of none,” she added.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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