Relax, PM, it must be a joke

Canning, Jan. 21: Mamata Banerjee today sprang an idea whose time, Manmohan Singh will hope, will never come ' certainly not when he is in office.

"I met the Prime Minister 10 times on this issue. Aar ki korbo? Maarbo giye? Manusher jonyo last obdi jete pari. Gele to bolbe aami goonda (What else could I have done? Resort to beating? I'm ready to go to the bitter end for the sake of the people. But if I do, they'd call me a goonda)," she told a public meeting in South 24-Parganas that followed an administrative session.

Mamata was referring to the rise in the prices of fertiliser and diesel and the cut in subsidised cooking gas quota.

A hint of a smile did play on the chief minister's lips when she asked "Maarbo giye? (Should I resort to beating?)".

But given the chief minister's reputation for playing to the gallery and the record of mimicking the Prime Minister on television, the Special Protection Group is certain to cast a hawk's eye next time constitutional obligations or conventions set up a meeting between the two.

If the proposal was Mamata's attempt at humour and expression of exasperation, it also showed the perils of speaking for too long.

Today, she spoke for nearly 90 minutes ' one of her longest speeches in recent memory ' most of which was reserved for blaming the Centre and a section of the media. Mamata also forecast Lok Sabha polls in "August-September" and said she would go it alone.

Bereft of other talking points, she soon found herself saying things that will add to the perception of being unpredictable.

Mamata slipped back to the financial crunch theme ' a score that is certain to be played again and again ahead of the panchayat polls.

But she undermined her own case by announcing doles to more clubs. She announced that 714 clubs in the area ' the two Parganas ' would be given Rs 25,000 each. Many of the clubs had participated in the Sundarban Cup 2012, a football tournament.

"The finance department has cleared it," Mamata said, drawing loud cheers from the crowd. "Keep a watch on your locality and we will make your future secure."

The chief minister, who says she is finding it difficult to meet the salaries of government employees, promised another Rs 1 crore for upgrading the Canning sports complex ground into a stadium.

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