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Mamata's intolerance thrusting celebrity status on commoners

kolkata Updated: Sep 19, 2012 11:45 IST

IANS
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One can call it Mamata Banerjee's Midas touch. The maverick West Bengal chief minister's intolerance is making heroes out of faceless people in the crowd.

After a chemistry professor, a scientist and a college student, it was the turn of a poor marginal farmer, Shiladitya Choudhury, to face the chief minister's wrath, leading to his arrest and subsequent celebrity status as sympathy poured in from all quarters for the "injustice" done to him.

Choudhury, who hails from a small village in West Midnapore district, had to spend 14 days in jail just because he dared to ask Banerjee in a public rally: "Farmers are dying because they have no money to buy fertiliser. Empty promises are not enough. What are you doing for farmers?"

A visibly infuriated Banerjee immediately branded him a Maoist, following which Choudhury was detained, released and then arrested.

"I had gone there to inform didi (elder sister, as Banerjee is called) about the problems farmers were facing. But I was branded a Maoist. Everybody in Bengal now knows my case and people will at least recall my ordeal before raising their problems," Choudhury told IANS.

"My life will never be same again. The entire state now knows who I am, with some suspecting that I am actually a Maoist cadre,"said Choudhury,who has been hounded by television channels and the print media for bytes and interviews since his release.

Earlier this year, it was a little known chemistry teacher of Jadavpur University, Ambikesh Mahapatra, who got instant stardom after being roughed up by Trinamool workers and arrested by the police. His crime? Mahapatra was pulled up for online circulation of 'defamatory' cartoons - which included photographs of Banerjee and Railway minister Mukul Roy showing the duo discussing how to get rid of Dinesh Trivedi - who was forced by Banerjee to give up the railways portfolio.

Mahapatra's ordeal not only evoked widespread derision among the masses but overnight turned him into a celebrity - who by then had become a victim symbolising state terror.

Mahapatra was practically an unheard of man - even the university vice chancellor told journalists that he had not known anybody by that name taught in the university before the controversy broke out. And now, he is a household name in Bengal and a popular face in several television debates.

"What was done to me was not only unjust but a gross violation of my fundamental rights. Life has changed for me after that incident. People instantly recognize me when I walk on road or avail myself of public transport. They sympathise with me and ask me what actually happened," Mahapatra told IANS.

Mahapatra's celeb status can be measured from the views of shopkeepers near his apartment, who earlier didn't even know who he was.

"Earlier either Mahapatra saab or his wife used to come to our shop for groceries. But we didn't know that he was professor but after the incident everybody knows him and his profession," said Raju, a shopkeeper.

The bright, bespectacled and articulate Tanya Bhardwaj, a product of Bengal's hallowed Presidency College, landed in trouble after she dared to ask Banerjee during a television programme about Mahapatra's arrest. An infuriated Banerjee branded her a Maoist and walked out of the programme.

The incident was widely criticised and Bhardwaj's interviews and open letter to Banerjee were widely published in the media. Later, the state security agencies harassing her also made headlines.

"What for have we elected a government? In a democracy, we have every right to ask questions to elected representatives. And if a head of state behaves in such a way, it's a shame. If I get a chance I will again ask the same question to Mamata Banerjee," Bhardwaj told IANS.

Banerjee's intolerance came to the fore again when a molecular biologist, Partho Sarathi Roy, was arrested for his involvement in a human rights movement. Shocked, eminent scientists and intellectuals, including well-known US-based academician-intellectual Noam Chomsky, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging Roy's release.

Roy says that the injustice meted out to him has emboldened others to fight against injustice and state oppression.

"Everything has a positive and negative side. When I go to villages, people recognise me instantly and say they have derived the strength to fight state oppression after seeing the injustice handed out to me," said Roy, who is now a popular face in panel discussions on news channels.

The photographs of Mahapatra, Roy, Bhardwaj and Choudhury are now a rage on social networking sites with their harrowing experiences being cited as glaring examples of state oppression and intolerance.