A seasoned politician is one who knows how to extract maximum political advantage from a favourable situation by linking it to people’s sentiment. Firebrand West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is one such leader who belongs to this rare breed of politicians in this country.
The rousing welcome given to superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s IPL team, the presence of VVIPs and the grand felicitation of Kolkata Knight Riders teammates at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens is yet another proof that Mamata <i>didi</i> did not want to lose any opportunity to connect with Bengali ‘manush’ and strengthen her party’s vote bank.
Sensing public sentiment, Mamata <i>didi</i> smartly turned the occasion to honour the newly-crowned IPL champions into a political show by taking centrestage during the felicitation ceremony.
Though the event was meant to felicitate the KKR players for bringing glory to the state, it was Mamata who outshone others. With her excellent oratory and crowd management skills, the Trinamool Congress chief clearly stole the show in front of thousands of frenzied cricket fans, who had gathered to get a glimpse of their favourite film stars and sporting heroes.
To make this event an unforgettable occasion, the West Bengal CM opened the prestigious Eden Gardens for all and made the entry free. The stadium was decked for the event and a makeshift stage was erected just outside the VVIP gate to welcome KKR players, who arrived there in two batches.
Going a step further, Mamata not only felicitated the players but also team owners Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla along with team officials and presented them with bouquets, blue and black embroidered scarves and cake made of sandesh (Bengali sweet) which resembled the team logo. Besides, the CM also showed her generosity by presenting a gold chain with ‘Bengal Loves You’ written on it to each team member to mark the occasion.
The moment she arrived on the scene, the energetic Trinamool Congress leader got hold of the mike and swiftly took over the ceremony relegating the cricketers to the background.
Draped in a traditional white cotton sari, Mamata was seen appealing to an impatient crowd to exercise restraint, shouting the KKR slogan, giving a piece of advice on what to sing, posing for cameramen and casually chatting with the Governor and other state officials.
During the felicitation ceremony, the TMC leader was seen holding the IPL trophy along with KKR co-owner Shah Rukh Khan for the most part, than the players who actually won the cup.
Ably aided by SRK - an excellent performer on stage - Mamata possibly forgot that she was the CM of a state, where she had achieved a landslide victory last year, ending more than 30 years of Left rule on the promise of progress and peace.
It was really surprising to see the CM turning into an event manager braving scorching heat and urging the crowd to behave properly, giving directions to security officials and even the KKR players whenever they broke the queues.
The celebration was really big as more than 100,000 people made a beeline on both sides of the road, danced to drum beats and cheered the players as they began their victory march in an open bus-top during the five-km journey from Hazra Crossing to Eden Gardens.
Thousands of fans waited patiently for their triumphant team members to arrive as their flight was delayed by more than two hours. Life-size posters of Shah Rukh Khan and team captain Gautam Gambhir adorned the stadium and few had congratulatory messages written on them.
Let alone the state ministers, West Bengal Governor MK Narayanan was also there to welcome the team members with bouquets and garlands on a makeshift stage near the VIP gate No. 5, close to the international terminal of the airport in Dum Dum.
All this hype and hoopla was created just to celebrate the maiden victory of King Khan’s team in the fifth edition of the IPL T20 championship over last year’s champions Chennai Super Kings.
I agree that it’s a big achievement as far as a particular sport is concerned but could there be any justification for the magnanimous celebration of a private cricket club’s victory in a tournament.
Though it was neither the official start of the IPL T20 tournament, nor a World Cup victory, and not even an Olympics gold medal, the lavish spending by a cash-starved government showed that it knows no limit when it comes to politically exploiting a feel good moment.
Ironically, KKR’s win has little to do with West Bengal as it has little representation in the team. Nonetheless, the state government hailed KKR’s victory as if it was its biggest achievement in past one year.
Interestingly, with this victory the state, which has revered former Team India skipper Sourav Ganguly, has now got a new non-Bengali cricketing icon in the form of Gautam Gambhir who hails from Delhi.
Despite the grandeur and presence of top celebrities, the celebration made a mockery of West Bengal’s pride and its culture. And a poor performance by unknown singers, who rendered popular numbers from SRK’s blockbuster movies, looked repetitive and boring.
The floor management was poor and the performances had nothing that highlighted the state’s rich tradition and its cultural heritage. The spotlight, which should have been on the KKR players, was more on the CM and the film stars including SRK, Juhi Chawla and regional actress Rituparna Ghosh.
For a mercurial mass leader like Mamata Banerjee, who single-handedly replaced the Left in their own turf, a plain ceremony putting much less burden on the state’s exchequer could also have served the purpose.
There is no harm in felicitating all those who bring glory to our nation or state, but it should never become a tool to fulfil political interest and an opportunity for the ruling party to take credit for everything.
It is also frustrating to see that in a country where non-cricket players get a step-motherly treatment from the government and various sporting federations, cricket stars are worshipped like God and showered with gifts and cash.
Mamata Banerjee's first anniversary as Chief Minister has been utterly disappointing. The ‘poriborton’ or change which was the punch-line of her election campaign is missing. Beyond a few cosmetic changes like repainting the city of Kolkata, the report card for the first Trinamool government is far from satisfactory.
For a grass-root leader like MamataDidi, it is more important to utilise the tax payers’ money for West Bengal’s all-round development and keeping the wheels of progress rolling in the coming years than wasting them on festivities and celebrations.