Didi's vanishing act
I've only met Mamata Banerjee once. It was nearly 11 years ago in 2001. However, that single experience could hold the key to understanding her wayward behaviour today.columns Updated: Apr 21, 2012 22:17 IST
I've only met Mamata Banerjee once. It was nearly 11 years ago in 2001. However, that single experience could hold the key to understanding her wayward behaviour today.
Miss Banerjee agreed to give the BBC programme HARDtalk India an interview. It was fixed for 11.30 am on a mutually agreed date in August. It was reconfirmed repeatedly, including the night before. But these assurances proved to be illusory.
At the agreed time the producer, Vishal Pant, reached Parliament to escort Miss Banerjee to our studio. She met him in the lobby and they walked out together. Then, just before they got to the waiting car, she said she needed to nip back inside and promised to return in a jiffy.
Vishal believed her and waited patiently. She never returned. For the first 10 minutes he thought someone must have detained her. For the next half hour he thought something urgent had cropped up. But when a whole hour lapsed he sensed she'd done the bunk.
So Vishal went back into Parliament to look for the absconding Miss Banerjee. He found her surrounded by a group of Trinamool MPs. But when she saw him she refused to recognise him. It was as if she'd never seen him before.
Vishal feared he had a serious problem. Hoping that wasn't the case he decided to find out. He walked up to Miss Banerjee and touched her hand to attract her attention. He was anxious to get her to the studio as quickly as possible. After all, by this time she was nearly two hours late.
Miss Banerjee — and the MPs surrounding her — chose to misunderstand Vishal's gesture. They accused him of "grabbing" her. They claimed he had "misbehaved". And, as he recalls the incident today, "a minor scuffle" occurred. All because Miss Banerjee was determined to ditch the BBC without explanation, leave aside cause.
Despite his best efforts, Vishal failed to persuade Miss Banerjee to keep her word. She simply left the group and disappeared. This time she was gone for hours.
Hereafter Vishal and our other colleagues launched a wild goose chase, following every lead, heeding every bit of advice, checking (repeatedly) every home or office she could have visited. But to no avail. They got no further sight of Miss Banerjee. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, she seemed to have "just left" each location where they thought they might find her.
The hunt continued for hours. Cars anxiously scoured Delhi. Worried phone calls were put through to every person who might know where she was. Alerts were mounted at her home in case she suddenly turned up. But Miss Banerjee had vanished into thin air.
Then, around 10 at night, Dinesh Trivedi came to our rescue. A few weeks earlier he had persuaded Mamata Banerjee to accept. Now he felt a need to salvage the situation.
Dinesh asked Vishal to come to his flat in 30 minutes. An hour and a half later Vishal emerged with Miss Banerjee. The interview happened well after midnight.
It wasn't a great interview but the main thing is it happened. Miss Banerjee snarled and snapped. For a large part she turned her head sideways, refusing to look me in the eye and giving the audience an angry profile to see. It was obvious she didn't care what anyone thought.
Now, tell me, do you recognise today's West Bengal chief minister in this story? And do you think her mercurial behaviour is born of either insecurity or arrogance?
Views expressed by the author are personal.