The Telegraph, 30 June, 2012
Calcutta, June 29: Even by the quirky standards of local politics, Bengal never ceases to surprise. Mamata Banerjee now has the chance to make the CPM skip an event held in honour of Jyoti Basu.
The chief minister today proposed to “observe Jyoti Basu’s birthday”, posing an almanac-bound dilemma for the CPM.
Basu’s birth anniversary (July 8) falls on a Sunday this year. If the chief minister follows her policy of marking such commemorative events on the nearest preceding working day if the anniversaries fall on a holiday, Basu’s party is reluctant to take part in it.
In keeping with the policy and the pledge, the chief minister today observed B.C. Roy’s birth anniversary in the Assembly, though the actual date is July 1 (Sunday), and the CPM skipped the programme as announced earlier.
Mamata’s logic for observing the anniversaries in advance is the non-availability of employees to keep the venue open on Sundays. But the CPM, much like a ritual-bound astrologer, feels such dates are etched in stone and have to be observed on the appointed day.
On the Basu birth anniversary, the chief minister merely said “we will observe Jyoti Basu’s birthday also” and has left it open-ended when the government will do so.
However, having made an issue out of the B.C. Roy event today, the CPM fears that Mamata would do an encore. “Jyoti Basu’s birthday is on July 8 and we will observe it on that day. If we can’t come here, there are other places,” said Surjya Kanta Mishra, leader of the Opposition.
Mishra displayed his knowledge of the works of R.D. Burman, whose birth anniversary too was celebrated two days ago by Mamata, to take a pot shot.
“It is not enough to remember Ruby Roy (an RD song about a man’s unrequited love). B.C. Roy too should be remembered. His birthday is observed as Doctors’ Day throughout the country. If a birthday can be observed on any day, what is the need for having a particular day as birthday?” Mishra asked.
The chief minister accused the CPM of playing politics. “The CPM is still practising the ‘us-and-them’ politics that they did when they were in power and is trying to politicise everything,” Mamata said.
In response to a question later, Mishra said: “We don’t mind MLAs and the Assembly staff turning up on a Sunday to pay tribute to Jyoti Basu. After all, he was a great man and it is a question of only one holiday in a year. Besides, it is not going to take up an entire day. It would be a short programme.”
Asked if the CPM was being ritualistic like a religious order, Mishra replied: “This is not about rituals or symbols. This is about a birthday.”
But the last laugh of the day belonged to Mamata, thanks to a CPM member who scored an own goal in the Assembly.
The CPM’s Sheikh Amjad Hussain asked Mamata: “Why are prices shooting up? Why is the rupee getting de-valued?”
Pat came Mamata’s reply: “Why don’t you ask your friend in Delhi why the prices are shooting up?”
No, the MLAs of the Congress, whose erstwhile finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s presidential candidature is being supported by the CPM, did not laugh. They sat in silence.