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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Sep 2014

Histrionics, poetry and frayed nerves - Mamataa at her best

IANS  New Delhi, February 25, 2011
First Published: 16:52 IST(25/2/2011) | Last Updated: 16:57 IST(25/2/2011)

She jousted and shouted, cajoled and smiled, broke into heavily accented Urdu and Hindi and even recited poetry. It was the quintessential Mamataa Banerjee on Friday as she read out the railway budget with liberal doses of histrionics that had her audience at the Lok Sabha alternately infuriated and amused.

The feisty railway minister was at her combative best during the 90-minute multilingual presentation of the rail budget at the Lok Sabha.

"Stop it," the stentorian leader from West Bengal shouted several times during the speech and even told the restive MPs, "dhyan se suno" (listen attentively).

Irritable and conversational in turn, Banerjee was a picture of confidence through the noisy presentation as she raised her voice often to make herself heard over the din.

Budget presentations can be dry affairs with ministers poring into papers in front of them and rarely looking up as they reel out figures.

Not so with this minister, who departed from the text frequently to address the house, admonish and occasionally break into poetry.

"Hum aah bhi bharte hain toh ho jaate hai badnaam; woh qatl bhi karte hain to charcha nahin hota," Banerjee said in heavily accented Urdu towards the beginning of the presentation.

The reference was to the flak that employees of the railways get everytime something goes wrong, ignoring all the good work that is done.

The Bengali speaker ended with an admonition too, saying "agar jiyein toh kamyabi milegi".

Mindless of her obvious unfamiliarity with the language, she also recited words from the famous war song "Aye mere watan ke logon".

Sung by Lata Mangeshkar, this was the song that had moved India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to tears.

As Banerjee announced sops for the defence personnel, Meira Kumar gently reminded her: "Don't miss the beautiful couplets."

The opposition, which frequently disrupted her budget speech, for once listened quietly.

Banerjee, before she started reading out the rail budget from the written text, had said that she would be leave out some portions from the text and they should be considered read.

There were words of wisdom Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore too, punctuating the pedantic reading.

"Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might," she quoted Tagore.

And cited Vivekananda's famous words, "Strength is life and weakness is death."

Clearly having done her homework well, she looked up frequently from the papers in front of her, getting angry and cajoling in turn as she asked the members to listen on patiently.

The presentation also saw Banerjee and her predecessor Lalu Prasad spewing anger at each other.

When Didi, as the railway minister is popular known, announced some projects for the poll-bound West Bengal, her home state, Lalu Prasad was immediately on his feet objecting to the benefits to the Left-ruled state.

Some other MPs, including Janata Dal-United chief Sharad Yadav, joined the Bihar politician.

The uproar that followed when members thought there was undue emphasis on her home state led to the budget presentation being interrupted for several minutes.

An irate Banerjee retorted: "I am proud of my state!"

West Bengal goes to the polls in May and Banerjee's Trinamool Congress is widely expected to come to power there ousting the ruling Left Front.

Banerjee, who announced several schemes for West Bengal and specifically mentioned the Kolkata Metro, provoked outrage with several MPs up on their feet and protesting loudly.

Known for losing her cool at the slightest provocation, the Trinamool Congress chief shouted the MPs down asking them to raise their queries during the debate over the railway budget.

"This is not a press conference," she said, refusing to answer queries raised by opposition MPs in the middle of her fiery speech.

When she mentioned some projects in Patna and Gaya, Banerjee pointedly told Lalu Prasad that these cities were in Bihar.

"Is not Patna in Bihar?" she asked angrily.

The war of words between Lalu Prasad and Banerjee was waiting to happen as the latter has been her bitter critic since she took over the railways ministry from him in 2009.


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