Kolkata: The West Bengal chief minister might not find cartoons about her funny, but she is happy enough to mimic the prime minister. The widely telecast scenes of Mamata Banerjee imitating the genial Manmohan Singh have raised much debate and derision and have again put the spotlight on India's smear politics.
From threats to slapping defamation cases to triggering sarcastic comments on whether the artist in her, which already paints and pens poems, is out to explore newer avenues - Banerjee's act has led to varied reactions.
Appearing in an interview on a national TV channel, Banerjee, in a mumbling delivery imitating the prime minister, said: "...Yes we have the problems...let us discuss some time..." while talking about her differences with Manmohan Singh on the FDI in multi-brand retail issue.
While dinner tables and tea stalls were abuzz with discussions about Banerjee's apparent acting skills, an infuriated Congress took strong offence to the 'humiliation' of their esteemed leader and was even mulling taking legal recourse.
"She is no actress to resort to mimicry. By mimicking she has humiliated the prime minister in front of the whole nation. Her behaviour is not befitting that of a chief minister. Our party is discussing on exploring legal options against her," Congress MP and actress Deepa Dasmunshi fumed.
Along with the political parties, a section of the civil society too has been vocal in denouncing Banerjee saying it would set a bad precedent.
Not surprisingly, Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra, who was arrested earlier this year for circulating mails mocking the feisty Trinamool chief, had his head "hanging in shame".
"It is appreciable that she can paint and write but mimicking the prime minister on TV is taking things too far. Being a resident of Bengal, I am embarrassed and ashamed at her deed," Mahapatra told IANS.
While Congress leaders minced no words in criticising and condemning Banerjee for her discourteousness, sacrificing decency and political courtesy is nothing new for our leaders, with several of them mastering the art of slandering their opponents.
Congress parliamentarian and "acclaimed" Mamata baiter Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury will perhaps be long remembered for his jibe at Banerjee, likening her to a lunatic.
"Tarate gechilam harmad nia elam unmand" which loosely translates to "While driving away the goon(s) we brought in a cartoon" Chowdhury had quipped while analysing the change of regime from the Communist led Left Front to the Trinamool Congress in the state.
Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad, rather famous as politics' funny man, too had tried his hand at acting when he had imitated Banerjee - then the railway minister. Speaking at a party rally in Ranchi, Lalu Prasad had aped Banerjee much to delight of the crowd who egged on the leader to continue poking fun at Banerjee.
Belittling and villifying opponents for the sake of claps and roars from the crowd is nothing new in Bengal politics and even legendary figures like revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore were not spared.
The undivided Communist Party of India had denounced Bose as an "imperialist agent" and "Tojo's dog" (referring to Hediki Tojo, the Japanese prime minister during World War II). The party had also dubbed Tagore a "bourgeois poet" and ridiculed him as an "anandabadi kabi (poet who only celebrates joy)".
Former chief minister and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Jyoti Basu never took Banerjee's name and would use the derogatory "she" to denote her.
While there are instances galore of politicos stooping too low in their bid to denigrate their rivals, the ones who stand out are the CPI-M's Anil Basu and Trinamool's Jyoti Priya Mullick. Basu a former parliamentarian, however, had to be expelled after he used unparliamentary language to describe Banerjee.
Mullick the state's food minister is now rather "infamous" for his bizarre prescriptions to his partymen.
He not only has asked them to resist marrying CPI-M workers but also advised them not to see their rivals' faces as this would be a bad omen. "While going out never look at their faces for it would bring bad luck to you. You may even end up getting crushed under the wheels," Mullick has been heard saying at several party rallies.
(Anurag Dey may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)