Mamata’s home grown remedies !!.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee knew what to do about the shortage of surgical masks in the market. “Make your own,” she said at a press conference on March 21. “A gamchha, aanchal of a saree or any piece of clean cloth will do. I have made my own mask from an old ganjee (vest),” she said, folding a cloth piece into a triangle and using it a mask to cover the nose and lower part of her face. Mamata perhaps cocked an eyebrow when a few days later, on April 11, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on his video conference meeting with chief ministers wearing a homemade mask.

Between juggling administrative work, politics and distributing relief, she’s immersed in creative pursuits–conceiving an awareness campaign film in praise of the elderly and the state’s Covid warriors, and even penning the lyrics for a song to be used in it. The famously spartan chief minister cooks her own meals, cleans her own room and, yes, stitches her own masks at her modest single storied, tiled-roof home in south Kolkata.

On April 4, PM Modi had stressed on ayurveda and following the Ayush ministry’s protocol to stay fit and fine. “Fresh lemon juice”, as a commonly available item in all kitchens, was the PM’s recipe to build a strong immune system. This was another ready-made, impromptu solution that Mamata had suggested a while back to the people of her state to boost immunity–“just a dash of lime juice in warm water”. She had also asked them to improve their diet with a balanced meal of rice and daal or khichdi. Rice and daal (pulses) are being distributed free of cost through ration shops and so the poor won’t have to crowd the markets or spend any money, she said.

These days, the CM is bursting with ideas. She has a pen and a notebook for de-stressing, even as she attends to the innumerable phone and messages on her mobile screen. In between the scribbles and doodles, she jots down the “to-do” list of things, which can include the shifting of pavement dwellers of Kalighat temple to a night shelter to the far more serious business of calling up Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee and seeking advice on how to keep the state GDP at a respectable level. Not that it was doing too badly, going by 2018-19 data, the state GDP growth was at 12.6 per cent, the highest in the country. As soon as ideas come to her, she quickly communicates them to a handful of her trusted bureaucrats and cabinet ministers for prompt execution.

When Mamata, in one of her surprise visits to a local vegetable market, saw people huddling, she picked up a piece of brick and drew circles at a gap of one metre to show how people should maintain social distancing. Many might have thought that Mamata was up to her usual antics, but soon we saw such circles dotting other states as well.

Simple to the extent of being considered trite initially, Mamata’s suggestions for grappling with the lockdown are now being accepted as gospel truths. The opening of the local grocers or the fish and vegetable market has, apart from helping the customers, had a percolating effect in sustaining the small shopkeepers and the chain of life and livelihoods associated with it.

By far the most prudent way of handling the cluster of hotspots in Bengal, Mamata tagged a few of the COVID-19 sensitive spots in Howrah to local grocers and vegetable vendors for smooth supply of 43 essential items–including vegetables and fish–so that people would not have to step out and risk their lives. Without stirring panic and imposing curfews, she’s beefed up the delivery chain in these areas to make sure people get their things at their doorstep. Call centres have been opened at the municipal offices to take delivery orders. About 4,000 households are catered to every day. The government is planning to use this as a model in several other now. “Home isolation is not equivalent to jail. I will ask people to stay safe and at home with their families. I will ask the police to deliver all items and medicines. They will be there to answer all kinds of calls,” she said.

“By giving special attention, Mamata is nursing the local wards, which will be going to the polls anytime after the lockdown is over. This was a master-stroke with the lockdown in place she’s warded off the other political parties while increasing the people’s dependence on her and her government,” says professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University, Biswanath Chakrabarty. “She wants to be seen as the only refuge of the people. By exercising a monopoly over the distribution of dole and relief, she’s trying to hijack all the credit.”

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