Mamata makes history with cabinet meeting in traffic outpost
History and histrionics blended on Monday as Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee became the first head of a government in the country to hold a cabinet meeting in a traffic police outpost on a pavement in the heart of Kolkata to pass the state budget.
The full cabinet comprising more than 50 ministers huddled in the room as the cabinet led by the chief minister passed the budget in a few minutes on Monday afternoon. The budget was later placed in the state Assembly in the absence of the chief minister.
As the 64-year-old Banerjee seamlessly slipped into the role of street fighter opposition leader, the dharna turned into a platform that drew not only party leaders but also artists who performed on the dais to keep the crowd engaged.
On Monday evening, a smaller stage was erected beside the main dais to conduct the investiture ceremony of the West Bengal Police and Kolkata Police that was originally supposed to take place at a state government auditorium in Alipore.
Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar, state director general of police Virendra, state security advisor Surajit Kar Purakayastha and home secretary Atri Bhattacharya were on the dais with the chief minister to present policemen with medallions.
“The entire scene is unprecedented and was unimaginable. A cabinet meeting in a traffic police outpost and an investiture ceremony virtually on a pavement was the last thing one could dare to imagine,” said psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University (RBU).
During the day, poets Joy Goswami, Subodh Sarkar, singers Shibaji Chattopadhyay, Saikat Mitra, Shantanu Raychowdhury, apart from the singer-turned-minister Indranil Sen, were present on the dais. The singers sang a few numbers each and said they were lucky to have the chief minister as their leader in fighting ‘fascist regimes’.
The areas remained constantly crowded and had to be barricaded to ensure traffic flow from one side of the road.
Sometime between 4 and 5 am on Monday morning, she stepped off the main stage but instead of going to her home just 3 km away she went to a traffic guard office to freshen up and perhaps to drink a cup of tea.
About three hours later, she was back to resume her protest.
Brimming with energy, on Sunday night she asked her supporters to go home assuring them that she would hold the fort herself.
A few dozen policemen stayed by her side to ensure her security through the night.
Clad in a thin elaborately embroidered kantha shawl to protect herself from the chill, Banerjee kept herself busy through the night holding telephonic conversations with various political leaders who kept calling her to extend their support to her, and checking messages and news sites on her phone and, all the while intermittently interacting with ministers such as Firhad Hakim and Arup Biswas.
Incidentally, Banerjee sat on a 26-day hunger strike at Esplanade in 2006 against the erstwhile Left Front government’s land acquisition drive in Singur and then a 16-day dharna in front of the Tata Nano plant in Singur, about 50 kilometres from Kolkata in 2008 that ultimately forced the Tatas out of the project.
“Today, I’m constantly reminded of days of struggle for the Singur farmers,” Banerjee said, while asking her Rajya Sabha MP Dola Sen to sing a few songs that she had during the dharna in Singur.