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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Concern or gimmick? All about Mamata Banerjee’s surprise home visits

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, after every administrative meeting that she routinely undertakes in different districts of the state, has started making unscheduled visits to the homes of common people. She did it in Howrah, East Midnapore and East Burdwan districts.

kolkata Updated: Aug 27, 2019 12:05 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.(ANI file photo)

Over the past seven days, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has done it thrice. After every administrative meeting that she routinely undertakes in different districts of the state, the Chief minister has started making unscheduled visits to the homes of common people. She did it in Howrah, East Midnapore and East Burdwan districts.

On August 19, Mamata Banerjee paid a sudden visit to a slum in Howrah town on her way to an administrative review meeting for Howrah district. She inquired from the locals about their problems and even entered a few homes to see for herself their living conditions. At the administrative meeting, she lambasted her party legislators and ministers for the neglect of the slum.

“Why should I have to do your work?” she asked minister Arup Roy, who hails from Howrah district, at the administrative review meeting that was aired live on TV channels and social media.

Read more: Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim is emerging as Mamata Banerjee’s man Friday

In the evening, the Chief Minister went to a village in the neighbouring East Midnapore district and sat at a panchayat members’ home to listen to the villagers.

On August 21, she paid another unscheduled visit to the tribal-dominated Duttapur village along the border of West Bengal and Odisha after convening the administrative review meeting for East Midnapore district. This time, she sat on a chair at an open space, inquired from the locals about their needs and problems, distributed candies among the children and then surprised the locals all the more by entering a tea stall and pouring out tea for several persons present at the spot.

On August 26, it was the turn of the residents of Baikunthapur village in East Burdwan district to be surprised. She went there straight after holding the administrative review meeting for the district.

True to her style, she mixed freely with the villagers sitting at their homes, sipped tea and distributed the biscuits they offered her with the tea to those who are stood around her.

So, what is the logic, politics or math behind these trips? Elections, pressure on officials and gimmicks are some of the explanations one hears, but the opinion is divided. The Trinamool Congress leaders, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, had various views.

A Trinamool Congress minister close to Mamata Banerjee said that though a massive public outreach campaign is currently on in the state under the ‘Didike Bolo’ and ‘Grame Chalo’ campaigns, the chief minister herself wants to understand the psyche of the common people, a good number of who have moved away from the ruling party, as was evident in the Lok Sabha elections.

Didike Bolo allows aggrieved persons to lodge a complaint directly with her using a tollfree phone number and an email id. Under the Gramey Chalo campaign, elected public representatives are visiting villages, spending the whole day and night, listing people’s grievances and distributing the phone number and email id among the public.

“Even the phone number and email have filters. The complaints received through Didike Bolo are scrutinised by the members of a special team and only the very serious issues are taken to her. Here, she is getting to hear everything by herself,” said the TMC minister.

“She is taking the Didike Bolo campaign to a different level,” said a TMC member of the Lok Sabha on condition of anonymity.

According to a TMC legislator of Hooghly district, “She is keeping party leaders under pressure. Her sudden visits are surely aimed at keeping party leaders and administrative officers on their toes.”

Political analysts consider this as an extension of the Didike Bolo programme. According to them, the idea that TMC wants to portray now is that even if other TMC leaders fail the people, there is Mamata Banerjee who can turn everything around.

“The message that TMC wants to spread now is that if things did not go well in the past, it was because the issues were not coming to her attention. In short, the TMC-appointed political strategist Prashant Kishor’s present focus is on building a larger than life image of the TMC chief and to spread the message that there is no alternative to Mamata Banerjee,” said psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University.

Kishore was roped in by TMC in June. His team has designed and is overseeing the public outreach campaign.

Amal Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency College, thinks that Banerjee is resorting to gimmicks because she has no explanation for her failures, especially in job creation.

“This is her desperate attempt to recover her party from the bad image that it earned for its members’ highhandedness and indulgence in corruption. Its student wing earned notoriety for the college elections and the party earned widespread hatred for turning the 2018 panchayat elections into a mockery. Now, she is trying to impress people by showing how down-to-earth and accessible she is,” Mukhopadhyay said.

“I, though, doubt if it is going to do her any good unless she focuses on the core issues of development, including job creation,” Mukhopadhyay added.

BJP leaders were acerbic. “The chief minister is trying to mislead the people by giving an impression that she is one of the common people and empathise with their cause,” said BJP vice-president of the state unit, Jay Prakash Majumdar.


First Published: Aug 27, 2019 12:05 IST