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May 21, 2011

Mamata Banerjee rides on people`s wave to Writers` Building

Mamata Banerjee rides on people`s wave to Writers` Building

Kolkata, May 20: It was the same corridor where she was dragged by the hair, and shoved down the staircase. Eighteen years later, when Mamata Banerjee walked into the chamber that said `Chief Minister`, heels clicked, and hands snapped up in salute or joined in awed obeisance. Outside, hundreds upon hundreds cheered like crazy.
Writers` Buildings has seen many a history in the making but not a day like this.

 Trailed by a sea of supporters, Mamata Banerjee walked the 1km from Raj Bhavan, where she took oath as the first non-Left Chief Minister in 34 years, to Writers` Building on Friday.

Bureaucrats and security officers escorted Mamata Banerjee up the same flight of stairs along which she had been dragged down in 1993. In the corridor, she suddenly cut her brisk stride and turned towards a balcony. She stood there for a while and waved to the delirious crowd. A bodyguard swiftly crouched before her, hanging on to the low guard rails to protect her from the mad scramble of photojournalists. With a final wave, Ms Banerjee walked off purposefully to the CM`s chamber. It was 4.44pm.

Exactly four hours earlier, Ms Banerjee had set off from her humble Harish Chatterjee Street house on a journey to change Bengal`s course. Thousands of supporters had already lined the route she would take to Raj Bhavan, holding puja thalis and blowing conch shells. Many were barefoot, as if had come to worship a deity.
In Ms Banerjee`s para, the atmosphere was Puja-like. When she emerged from the door, wearing a crisp off-white saree with a blue zari border, a chant of “Didi…Didi” went up. Her black Santro was ready to take her to Raj Bhavan, but the Iron Lady of Bengal walked into the crowd, much to the dismay of her bodyguards from the Special Security Unit. She touched as many hands as she could, smiled, and folded her hands in humility. Someone passed her a microphone.

“This is your day. It is you who is going to Raj Bhavan today. I am just representing a wish. For the next seven days, I will not see anybody. I will work day and night, even on weekends, to sort out certain issues. After that, I`ll start seeing you again, once a week. My doors will be open for you,” she said.

Neighbours showered flowers on the `para girl` as she got into the Santro, ignoring a bullet-proof car. Five of her brothers and their families followed. Mother Gayatri Devi could not make it because she is ill.

At exactly 12.55pm, the Chief Minister-in-waiting walked into Raj Bhavan. She greeted Governor M K Narayanan and took the sheet of paper she was to read from.

 Facing her, in the front row, were Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose and Asim Dasgupta. Bhattacharjee. They exchanged polite namaskars. Raj Bhavan had never seen such a crowd, in number and glitter. Among the stars present were Prosenjit, Ranjit Mallik and daughter Koel, Rituparno Ghosh, Supriya Debi, Mahasveta Devi, Suvaprasanna, Jeet, Swastika Mukherjee, Sandhya Ray, Dwijen Mukherjee and Sandhya Mukherjee. Top industrialists Yogi Deveshwar and Harsh Neotia also attended. Santhali, Urdu oaths added special flavour.
Union Home Minister P Chidambaram walked into Raj Bhavan a few minutes after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. He greeted Amit Mitra and the two had a quick conversation. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Defence Minister A K Antony also attended the event.

 It was time for the day`s proceedings to begin. Mamata Banerjee was sworn in first. She was her usual self. Business-like. She allowed herself a smile as she wound up and turned to the Governor. A deafening applause signalled the start of her reign.
Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh read out the list of ministers, starting with Subrata Bakshi. Partha Chatterjee was second. Claps and gasps followed.
The ceremony had a flavour of diversity as several ministers took oath in languages other than Bengali and English. While Abdul Karim Choudhury read out his oath in Urdu, Sukumar Hansda stuck to his mother tongue — Santhali. Javed Khan surprised many by choosing English. Rachpal Singh impressed the audience by sticking to Bengali.

 Upen Biswas took his oath in the name of Buddha. The former CBI joint director is a Buddhist. Former Chief Secretary Manish Gupta thundered through his oath in his baritone. Amit Mitra read in a slightly more halting fashion. Bratya Basu`s diction was perhaps the best.
But it was Shyamal Mondol who stole hearts with his earthy style. He trotted on to the stage in a sprightly manner and almost stepped on the microphone. The MLA from Canning East insisted on touching Mamata Banerjee`s feet and had his way. He then took the oath as if he were giving a speech.