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Mamata: Change agent in chappals

June 02, 2011 13:32 IST
A pair of slippers does a good a job of saving Mamata Banerjee's soles from thorns, while her Santro runs as efficiently as a siren-blowing Safari. Navneet Anand on the West Bengal chief minister's mystique

Mahatma Gandhi's dhoti and danda had a touch of inspiring sobriety and his words and deeds only complemented it.

Jawaharlal Nehru's long black coat, still known as Nehru coat, continues to acquire an important place in the lexicon of fashion history.

JP's thick black frames and long white kurta remained as imposing as his ideals on Sampoorna Kranti.

Indian politics has had a long tradition of leaders adding a new dimension to their ideas, and personalities, by wearing a particular kind of dress that are typical to them. The dress, for these leaders, in many ways symbolised their values. While for some like Gandhi and JP their outfits intricately exemplified their deeds and political idioms, for some it was a mere matter of habit, while for still others, and especially in recent times, a fashion statement.

In post-liberalisation Indian politics one person who stands out for her dress, and which goes well with her deeds, is West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. In her over two decades of active political life, one thing that has remained constant has been her penchant for simplicity and this is amply illustrated in her dress, and deeds. Mamta's Sari, Slippers, Santro remained as steadfast all these years through her highs and lows, be it as a sole crusader of the Trinamool Congress or as Union railway minister. While many likened her to a mercurial Mamata indulging in opportunistic politics, the didi from Birbhum, much like her clothes, stood for simplicity and welfare.  

At a time when Indian politics is increasingly becoming synonymous with pomp and show – Amul babies in Parliament adorned in designer kurtas are a just a mild manifestation of the same – Mamata's Sari, Slippers and Santro have brought about a remarkable turnaround in our attention towards politicians' probity in public life. 

Mamata and her slippers become important also because we are faced with one of the worst crises of credibility in politics of our times -- when confidence in the political class is at its lowest ebb and civil society actors are desperately trying to occupy this space.

This is also a time when politicians and policy-makers are looked at with utmost scorn given the slew of cases tumbling out, from the 2G spectrum scam and Commonwealth Games saga. It is also for the first time ever in modern India that the political-corporate nexus and corruption have hit the courtrooms. It is no small moment in the history of Indian politics when some of its jails are housing a number of corporate honchos.

The diminutive and simple Mamata becomes significant against this backdrop for she had taken a large corporate group head on and said farmers' emotions were of supreme significance.

At a time when our jails are brimming over with corrupt politicians accused of amassing billions, heartlessly and remorselessly, with a blatant disregard for the same people who elect them to be their destiny drivers, Mamata's minimalism symbolises hope. While many including I had dismissed her Singur stand as nothing less than a political stunt, her continued embrace of the ideology of simplicity and display of political courage hase helped us pin our hopes on this petite lady from West Bengal.

Today Mamata is the role model for a whole generation of aspiring young Indians who place a huge premium on honesty and integrity. Her persistence chase for people's welfare and insistence on keeping the hallowed offices of, first the Union railway minister and now chief minister, under surveillance of sanity is what is remarkable about Mamata the politician. She has stood as an antithesis of what ails the modern Indian political class. She has exhibited a firm resolve to stick to the traditional language of Indian politics.

Noted political analysts WH Morris-Jones had propounded long ago that there are three languages -- modern, traditional and saintly -- in 'which political life in India is conducted'. One wonders if, after the likes of Gandhi and JP, the saintly breed had disappeared while even for the traditional idiom, the takers are not too many. Mamata does!

As we go ahead, Mamata will have huge challenges in front of her and, perhaps then, her simplicity may be brutally overlooked, for the evaluation of one's political success is fashion neutral. Faced with soaring aspirations of turning around the "misdeeds" of 34 years, Mamata will have to flex all her might to bring about all-round development in West Bengal which has had an incessant run by the Left government all these years. Much like in Bihar, Mamata will be confronted with a Herculean task but then she has the mandate to do it.

What helps Mamta's cause is her stupendous focus – a pair of slippers does a good a job of saving her soles from the thorns, while her Santro runs as efficiently as a siren-blowing Safari!

While Gandhi may have been the greatest man ever who walked on earth and freed us forever, Mamata may turn out to be independent India's first chappal-clad change agent!

We shall wait and watch.

Navneet Anand, a freelance journalist and blogger, did his PhD in political communication and can be reached at anandnavneet@gmail.com
Navneet Anand