POLITICS

Mamata Banerjee Is Now The Star Of Her Own Riveting Governance Reality Show, Telecast Live

A new genre of reality television is born.

15/06/2017 5:04 PM IST | Updated 15/06/2017 5:05 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Reality checks through reality shows—that is what Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been doing these days. Her administrative meetings in every district are telecast live on local television channels.

For many years now, Banerjee has been travelling to every district throughout Bengal to chair administrative meetings. She travels to these districts with senior officials instead of asking them to visit Kolkata for the meetings. But what is interesting is that, instead of holding closed door meetings with officials, Banerjee now allows the media to cover them 'live'.

The result is a TV programme, not unlike reality shows, each one lasting for several hours with hardly any ad break.

A close aide says: "Didi had allowed the TV channels to cover the meeting involving private hospitals 'live', and the reaction of common people was so overwhelming that she realised this is a great way to reach them. Since then, the administrative meetings are being allowed to be covered 'live'."

"Didi had allowed the TV channels to cover the meeting involving private hospitals 'live', and the reaction of common people was so overwhelming that she realised this is a great way to reach them."

From the district magistrate, police superintendent, elected representatives from the three-tier panchayat, lawmakers, to officials at the levels of blocks and sub-divisions, state officials of every department in the district, officers-in-charge of police stations, senior police officers, representatives of state and private hospitals, those from the chambers of commerce, students from colleges and universities from the district--at least 300-400 persons representing a wide cross-section of the district are present in these meetings. Banerjee addresses them and tries to resolve matters through her interactions with them. She reviews the performances of each district for government schemes.

Watch one such session, in which Mamata lashes out at officials.

She is usually accompanied by state chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee, home secretary Moloy De, state DGP Surajit Kar Purakayastha, and principal secretaries (and sometimes joint secretaries) of every department in each of these meetings.

The meetings are telecast live on almost all local television channels, obviously because they generate a lot of "news". For the viewers, these are very similar to reality shows. Which does not mean things are staged--they are not. In fact, every bit of it is unpredictable and impromptu, but the meetings can be compared with reality shows because there is drama, shock, laughter (and can often lead to tears for some). Officials get admonished or praised and policies are announced.

For the viewers, these are very similar to reality shows. Which does not mean things are staged – they are not.

According to the editor of a Bengali news channel, "We have to telecast these meetings 'live', because Banerjee is unpredictable and anything can happen in these meetings. She may announce government policies, she may show her displeasure for a party colleague or a very senior official. We can't afford to miss these, and telecasting these 'live' means the news can be presented immediately to the viewer."

A senior official of the state government says: "It gets her work done. A person in Chinsurah (in Hooghly district) knows immediately that the CM has allotted funds for water supply or road in her/his area, and the time by which she wants it to get done. It makes the whole process transparent too."

The meetings are like public trials--if an official or a Trinamool Congress leader fails to deliver, Banerjee ensures s/he is admonished right in front of the cameras.

The meetings are like public trials--if an official or a Trinamool Congress leader fails to deliver, Banerjee ensures s/he is admonished right in front of the cameras.

Recently, at the Hooghly district meeting, she asked senior leader of her party, Asit Majumdar, "to not take a share" in the money allotted for construction of a stadium. "Why do you need so much money for a stadium? If you do not take your share, I am sure the stadium will be complete with the funds allotted. Enough is enough," she thundered.

Banerjee also ensures factions within her party work together.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after meeting with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to discuss the idea of a united Opposition fielding a common candidate for the upcoming Presidential elections at residence of TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee on May 17, 2017 in New Delhi, India.

At the North 24 Parganas district meeting recently, she asked three leaders from her party to work together for the development of the area in and around Salt Lake and New Town, which lie close to the city's airport. In this area, which has seen a lot of real estate growth, Trinamool Congress factions are known to fight bitterly over their share and supply of raw materials for building construction.

Recently, she asked senior leader of her party, Asit Majumdar, "to not take a share" in the money allotted for construction of a stadium. "Why do you need so much money for a stadium? If you do not take your share, I am sure the stadium will be complete with the funds allotted. Enough is enough," she thundered.

In another meeting, Banerjee asked state health secretary RS Shukla to ensure a cord blood bank was operative soon. "You made me inaugurate it a year ago, why is it still not open?" she asked Shukla. She would have none of it when the health secretary tried to explain the legal hurdles that had come in the way. However, if you read between the lines you would know she was still being gentle and respectful as she constantly addressed him as "tumi" instead of "apni" (both used for "you" in Bengali, tumi for friends/associates, while apni has a formal use).

Perhaps this meant that her sole purpose was to get the job done, and not blame an official in an attempt to wash her hands of an incomplete project.

However, if you read between the lines you would know she was still being gentle and respectful as she constantly addressed him as "tumi" instead of "apni" (both used for "you" in Bengali, tumi for friends/associates, while apni has a formal use).

At a meeting in Birbhum, she asked the police officials what had stopped them from raiding hideouts to hunt crude bombs. This was message enough for those in her own party alleged to hire goons who use these bombs in frequent clashes. Within a couple of days after the meeting, police found scores of buckets of crude bombs from different parts of the district.

It was in such a meeting that she promptly decided to impose a ban on political meetings at College Square--the moment a student said classes at Calcutta University were often disturbed.

Within a couple of days after the meeting, police found scores of buckets of crude bombs from different parts of the district.

Party colleagues to senior officials in the state administration--each one is afraid that Banerjee won't mince words when pulling them up. She had recently given a tight hug to a district magistrate and showered her with praises because of the young woman's commendable work (this did not happen at an administrative meeting, though). But Banerjee can be ruthless and caustic too.

And officials come prepared, and try to fulfil targets ahead of the meetings. Even if they can face her wrath, they walk the extra mile to avoid this public lashing. "In the end, work gets done. So it should be a good thing if development work gets done and targets are reached," said a senior official.

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