NEW DELHI — Kabir Suman, a well-known Bengali singer, writer and political activist, had just walked into a recording studio owned by a popular music channel in Kolkata when the television started beaming a press conference by Biman Bose, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s influential politburo.
Mamata Banerjee had been thrashed again by the city police.
The year was 2006, the CPM had stormed back to power as a continuation of an unbroken run of forming governments in the state since 1977; and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya was firmly ensconced in Writers’ Building as the Chief Minister. But out in the streets, Banerjee had become a regular and somewhat incredulous fixture at the city’s many dharnas.
Banerjee had entered the urban Bengali consciousness as a tireless protester — photos of her being dragged by her hair, lathicharged and hauled across roads by police were a regular in vernacular newspapers through most of the late 90s and early 2000s. But by 2006, she was making enough noise for the old men of Left politics to take notice.
“Or oto bukei ba lage kyano? (why does she always get hurt on her chest?)’, Bose said in his press conference, mocking Banerjee. Bose’s smug, self-satisfied demeanour rankled Suman, the musician.
“It was infuriating, that tone,” the 70-year-old Suman recalled. Despite being someone identifies himself as ‘pro-Left’, Suman cancelled the day’s meeting and headed to the protest site to meet Banerjee, the subject of Bose’s ridicule.
In the long years leading up to 2011, when the Left Front seemed impregnable in Bengal before it suddenly folded like a house of cards, Banerjee invited the kind of sustained, eager mockery that very few politicians did. As late as months before the 2011 elections, when Banerjee was on the cusp of overthrowing the CPM, she was routinely caricatured in school skits.
In one school fest this correspondent attended, a boy of about 15 wrapped himself in a faded grey sari, held up the...