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Friday, May 27, 2022
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Diary

Kolkata Korner

So first Mamta dee said that nothing short of a direct appeal from bete noire Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would make her break her fast. But then she turned down a public appeal, and rejected his written appeal as well. What does she want? For the CM to

Kolkata Korner
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Kolkata Korner
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

No 'Mamata'

Even a wee bit of 'mamata' (mother's compassion) was not in evidence inside the state Assembly last week as Mamata's men (and a lone woman) wreaked havoc, ruthlessly venting their anger on priceless antique furniture and other expensive gadgets. The damage has been estimated at Rs 15 lakh. And it'll take a group of specialist carpenters from another part of Bengal (it seems only they have the expertise to make and repair antique furniture) three months to mend and replace the damaged furniture and restore the Assembly back to its old glory. Trinamool legislators have, however, not displayed an iota of regret for their obnoxious and criminal behaviour and haven't thought it fit to even apologize for the destruction of what is public property. Hence, what must be done is to deduct the Rs 15 lakh from the salaries and allowances of all the 21 MLAs who participated in vandalism. It comes to a little under Rs 71,500 per head, an amount that these politicos could well afford to part with. On second thoughts, the Speaker should round off the figure at Rs 75,000 or even Rs one lakh, the extra amount being penalty for the disgraceful act. Only then will our elected representatives learn to behave decently in and outside the House. 

Disruptions Galore

Disruptions have, as I've written many a time, become a way of life here. Last weekend saw a bandh called by Mamata Banerjee, followed by a SUCI-sponsored one earlier this week and a Trinamool-backed two-hour rail and road blockade that cause immense hardship to lakhs of people. But the big one is lurking round the corner—sponsored by the powerful CITU that is expected to cause a total and complete shut down in Bengal. The Trinamool and SUCI are agitating over acquisition of farmland at Singur for a Tata Motors project while the CITU has called the bandh to protest the UPA government's economic policies (never mind that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has enthusiastically embraced those very same policies in Bengal) and, believe it or not, "sale of the country (India) to imperialists"! None of these issues directly concern or affect Kolkatans. We're happy to carry on with our lives and our daily struggles without any political party or organisation making life more difficult for us. Why, oh why, do we always have to pay the price for other peoples' battles? As I've said many times in the past, till Kolkata's (and Bengal's) politicians discard the tendency to call bandhs and strikes, and till such disruptions stop completely, Kolkata will never be able to realise its true potential and regain its lost glory. No matter what Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's dreams may be. 

We're Also To Blame

But then, Kolkatans are also to blame, perhaps in more than equal measure to our politicians, for the dismal reputation that this city enjoys, its negative image and the morass from which it is just about emerging. On both the Trinamool-sponsored and the SUCI-sponsored bandh days, the state government had put a good number of buses on the roads and private transport operators, including taxi operators, also plied their vehicles. However, large swathes of this city, and all government offices, wore a deserted look. Most of the shops and markets remained closed. Only private offices functioned. My point is that if employees of private organisations could make it to their workplaces, so could government employees. There was no reason why traders couldn't keep their establishments open; after all, there was no threat of violence. By preferring to remain indoors or, generally, keep away from work, a large section of Kolkatans have displayed that they'd rather laze around than work. We've just reinforced the reputation of this city as one with a dismal work culture. So why blame irresponsible politicians alone for the plight we find ourselves in? 

Double Standards

December 14 will, however, be a different ball game altogether. And it'll also be a litmus test for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Since it's the CITU that has called the bandh, there won't be any public transport on the roads. No trader or businessman will dare to open his establishment. Government employees, even those very few conscientious ones, will stay at home. Very few private establishments will be open. And the state government, which showed such alacrity in attempting to foil the earlier bandhs by the Trinamool and the SUCI, would remain a mute spectator to the loss of lakhs of man-days. Bhattacharjee had, of course, promised earlier that his government would try to maintain normalcy on Dec 14 and deploy the same measures as it had during the last two bandhs. But that will not be: his transport minister, the maverick Subhas Chakraborty, has already termed the Dec 14 bandh as "our bandh" during which his department would not operate its fleet of buses. There is, thus, a difference between "our" and "their" bandhs in the eyes of the communists. But then again, this is hardly surprising. As I've stated many a time, communists have this obnoxious, holier-than-thou attitude and believe any action of theirs is inherently right and just and the very same by others is wrong, "reactionary" and what have you. 

Mamata's Fast

The mercurial Mamata Banerjee went on a hunger strike from Wednesday on the Singur issue. And strangely, she let it be known that nothing short of a direct appeal from bete noire Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would make her eat and drink (I don't mean alcohol, no way) ever again. Bhattacharjee had appealed through the media, but she turned it down, stating that the CM ought to speak to her directly. This, after having turned down repeated offers from Bhattacharjee to sit for direct talks and discussions with him. Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, acting on advice from President Kalam who was in Kolkata the other day, went and met her to request her to abandon the hunger strike. But to no avail. Ultimately, Bhattacharjee wrote to her on Friday, asking her to give up the fast and meet him for a discussion. But Mamata rejected the written appeal as well, demanding instead that the land acquisition process at Singur be stopped (never mind that the process is over). She knows fully well that this is an unrealistic demand and can never be met. The only way out now is for Bhattacharjee to call her up and plead with her to break her fast. Or better still, drive down to the venue of the fast and offer her fruit juice! But knowing Mamata, she may refuse that as well, alleging that the juice is laced with poison (polonium-210, perhaps)! Be that as it may, I wonder why Mamata has consistently turned down invitations to talks with the CM not only on the Singur issue, but many other ones as well? Is it because she fears she'll not be able to present a coherent, logical and well-informed argument before the well-read and articulate Bhattacharjee? 

Luxury Loo

The priorities of Kolkata's civic body, it seems, are misplaced. The latest atrocity our city fathers will hurl at us is a "grand" loo (yes, a public toilet) designed on the lines of the Sydney Opera House, no less. The spot selected for this monstrosity is, curiously, just beside a tree-lined roads bang opposite the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture at Golpark. The 3,000 square metre loo will rival any in a five-star hotel: marble floors, a hamam and a dressing room with huge mirrors. It'll cost Rs 30 lakh and the money would be recovered over a period (of a century?) through user charges. The project was conceived by the last Mayor, Subrata Mukherjee, who had this fetish for ludicrous projects (like a 20-storey Kolkata Gate and a swimming pool right in the middle of an arterial road!). It's surprising that the present Mayor has revived this luxury loo project. One of his aides even suggested that this loo could become a tourist draw! 

Toilet Training

But on the positive side, it appears that more and more Kolkatans are using public toilets instead of urinating or defecating on walls and in empty spaces. Here are the statistics: we had only 45 public toilets in 1998, as against 153 at present. And revenue collected from the users has gone up from Rs one lakh in 1998 to Rs 50 lakh this year. Buoyed by this, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation has drawn up plans to build 25 new loos within the next one year. Including the luxury loo at Golpark that, the civic bosses hope, will generate a fair amount of revenue. And, of course, become an object of beauty in the city. Perhaps the civic body can charge some money from people to stand and stare at this beauty? That'll surely improve the corporation's bottomline, considering the huge crowds that'll converge at Golpark to gawk at this incongruity.

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