Buddhadeb and Mamata: The twain seldom meet

By Sirshendu Panth, IANS,

Kolkata : He is from a famous middle class family of North Kolkata, an area known for its old world charm. She has been born and brought up in a nondescript tiled-roofed house in a lower-middle class area of South Kolkata.

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He is refined, elegant and sophisticated in his speeches which are delivered with an enriched diction, but choosy about getting close and personal with people. He seems detached and evokes awe.

Her speeches are anything but cerebral, but the connect with the masses is unmistakable. She revels in mixing with all and sundry with her girl-next-door image.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mamata Banerjee, the main protagonists in West Bengal’s political theatre, are as apart as the two poles. And the difference between the two leaders has never been as stark as during the campaign for the Lok Sabha polls that concluded Wednesday.

While Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader and Chief Minister Bhattacharjee has led the ruling Left Front’s campaign, Banerjee has been the top canvasser for her party Trinamool Congress – the state’s main opposition.

Dressed in spotless and well ironed dhoti-kurta, Bhattacharjee – a nephew of famous Bengali poet Sukanta Bhattacharjee – has criss-crossed the state during the campaign. The honours graduate in Bengali from the famous Presidency College, the 65-year-old lifelong Marxist has repeatedly said: “Industrialisation and ushering in big industrial units is the only way to ensure jobs for the educated and not-so-educated-youth”.

“From agriculture to industry, from old villages to new cities, this is the course of civilisation,” he says, assailing the opposition for obstructing development initiatives in the state. “They only say no. It is for the people to make them say yes.”

Eleven years junior to Bhattacharjee, Trinamool Congress supremo Banerjee – the main challenger to the Communists who have been ruling the state for 32 years – holds a postgraduate degree as also a law degree from Calcutta University.

In contrast to the chief minister, Banerjee has confined herself almost solely to local issues in her meetings, going hammer and tongs at the state government and its fulcrum CPI-M for allegedly perpetrating terror on the people, and trying to grab fertile land from farmers “in the ruse of setting up industries”.

The anti-land acquisition movements in Singur and Nandigram occupied much of her addresses. Her rhetoric – “When we come to power, we will transform north Bengal to Switzerland, the sea resort of Digha to Goa and Kolkata to London” – is lapped up by the audience.

What do the two leaders say about each other? Nothing flattering. Usually, they are not even on talking terms. Even during the height of the Singur crisis last year, Bhattacharjee and Banerjee only met twice.

What is Bhattacharjee’s impression of Banerjee? “Well, when I met her, I had to hear ancillary industries for the Nano project in Singur mean setting up beauty parlours and discotheques.”

Banerjee commented to her close aides that Bhattacharjee appeared a “very confused and nervous man”.

But amid all the differences, they have one thing in common. They both write poems. Bhattacharjee has penned dramas and even translated Russian poet and playwright Vladimir Myakovsky’s works. Banerjee has published her book of poems and also brought out a cassette of her songs.

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at [email protected])