Rajen Garabadu is Chief Executive Producer - IBN18 Network.
As part of covering one year of the Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool Government in West Bengal, we at CNN-IBN thought it a good idea to go to Kolkata and gauge the mood of the public. Exactly a year ago, there was jubilation on the streets of Kolkata when Mamata decimated the Left Front Government which had ruled Bengal for over three decades. We were keen to find out one year later if anything had changed.
We felt if we could bring the CM of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee to come and take questions from the citizens of Kolkata, it would be a meaningful discussion, besides being a truly interactive and engaging show. The thought was ambitious yet noble, and we felt it necessary to pursue it. Didi agreed and a job well begun was half done.
The show was the perfect setting for the Chief Minister to clear the air on the things which have gone wrong for her government in the last one year. All she had to do was be candid, accept some failings and assure the citizens that she would make good. They adored her not so long ago and there was a good chance that they would happily forgive and forget. All they looked forward to was for Didi to come clean.
What can change in one year? Quite a lot, it seems, after watching Mamata Banerjee and all that she has been up to in this period. The show begun well and CNN-IBN's Sagarika Ghose, who moderated the discussion, praised Mamata for agreeing to participate in an interactive televised show. She was asked how it felt to be considered by Time Magazine among the most powerful women in the world. Mamata mouthed her favourite line 'I am a commoner'. It seems no matter what the question, she had chosen this as a preferred answer for pretty much any question directed at her. So far so good!
The first questioner asked her if she felt that the good work she did in solving the Jangalmahal issue had not been highlighted enough. Mamata replied how she believes in democracy and because of this strength and belief she has been able to overcome these issues. She said she doesn't believe in thrusting decisions on the people. She likes to take them into confidence, because she believes in democracy.
The second question came from an elderly professor from IIM who asked her for her views on protecting free speech and expression. She said she loves democracy and free speech but this was a Maoist issue.
The questions changed from praise to concern on how a young girl felt now on the issue of women's safety in Kolkata. The CM rubbished the question and branded her a Maoist. Sagarika moved to the next questioner who asked the CM how, after condemning violence and violent elements, she is able to defend her party leaders like Madan Mitra and Arabul Islam. Mamata labelled her as part of CPM cadre. The girl protested she was not. But Didi had declared it. End of discussion.
I will not take any such questions, she thundered. Pointing at the audience, she accused most of them of either being Maoist or CPM supporters. Just three questions had been asked which did not go in her favour and she couldn't take it anymore. She yelled and screamed conspiracy when there was none. She threw the microphone on the ground and went into a rage. The anger she displayed while charging out of the hall showed her in poor light. The citizens who had voted her to power just a year ago couldn't believe what they had just seen. It seemed that power had gone to her head and perhaps substantially damaged some critical tissue. In less than 10 minutes of mouthing some initial words of belief in democracy, Didi had thrown democracy out of the hall and stormed out.
The audience had come from several parts of the city and had been waiting for a while to get a chance to share their concerns with the elected head of the government. To storm out after branding most of them Maoist and CPM supporters, Mamata displayed utter disdain and contempt for her citizens. She perhaps forgot she is the Chief Minister of the state, who is accountable to the people. An elected CM cannot only be the CM for her party supporters. She has to reach out to everyone.
But who will tell her this? Her close associates and advisors perhaps run the risk of losing their jobs or even more if she decides not to take it well. But if there's someone in her coterie or her inner circle who can drill some sense into her and guide her on how to face people, it would be a huge service not just to Mamata and the Trinamool but also to the state of West Bengal. And why just Bengal, even India could profit.