Mamata Banerjee loves the blue and white combination, and now there is a colour coercion that’s doing its rounds in the state.
In Mamata’s (Banerjee) Bengal, rejecting white and blue carries quite a risk. And the risks go up incrementally if saffron is chosen over blue. The headmaster of a reputable government school in the state is on his way to finding this out the hard way.
Soon after coming to power in 2011, Banerjee chose blue and white as Bengal’s theme colour. Known for her visceral hatred for the colour red, which stems from her long-time opposition to the communists, the Chief Minister announced her love for the blue-and-white colour combination while inaugurating a riverfront beautification project in 2014. Since then, this colour combination has come to be known as ‘Mamata’s hues’. The blue and white combination, Banerjee had said at the inaugural ceremony, “signifies happiness and serenity”.
After ordering all government buildings to paint themselves in ‘Mamata’s hues’, her men started turning their attention to private buildings. In 2014, Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chattopadhyay announced a one-year property tax waiver for all private residences that are painted in blue and white. Other ministers followed suit, prodding departments under them and even people in their respective constituencies to paint their buildings and residences in ‘Mamata’s hues’. All to please their party supremo.
A few days ago, Education Minister Partha Chatterjee, not to be outdone, had a brainwave: ask all government school buildings to paint themselves in the chosen hues. He even sanctioned Rs 500 crore - a substantial part of the school education budget - to the schools for the makeover. The school education department asked the schools to commence the painting on 23 February and finish the task by 5 March.
All schools fell in line, not because they love the chosen colour combination but more out of fear of the consequences of defiance. But to Chatterjee’s utter surprise, and then ire, one school in South 24 Parganas district adjoining Kolkata chose to not only defy the diktat, but retain its present wall colours. And horror of horrors, the school currently sports saffron on its walls!
The headmaster of Krishnachandrapur High School in South 24 Parganas, which has more than 3,000 students, most of them from very poor families, has just written to the secretary of the school education department expressing his opposition to the diktat. “We will not accept this order. It is in bad taste and will eradicate diversity,” headmaster Chandan Kumar Maity told the media. The school is taking legal opinion to even mount a legal challenge to the order if the school education department insists on its implementation.
The school, established by the Ramakrishna Mission (RKM) has always sported the saffron colour - which Banerjee has developed an intense dislike for after the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bengal and advent of Narendra Modi to power - on its walls ever since it was established in 1948. Three decades later, when the Left Front came to power in 1977, the state government took over the management of the school. The stated reason, say those who remember, was that the school was catering to children from poor families who the Left wanted to indoctrinate. The Left has always been covertly suspicious of RKM, suspecting it of introducing its students to vedic thoughts and culture.
Partha Chatterjee, who like his political master (Mamata Banerjee) cannot tolerate dissent, is furious. The order, he is believed to have told senior officers of the school education department, has to be followed and there is no room for defiance. He has asked the department secretary to write back to the school asking it to implement the original order. He has also reportedly asked local level leaders of his party at Krishnachandrapur to get in touch with the members of the school’s management committee and pressurise them to get Maity (the school headmaster) fall in line. The message that has reportedly gone out from Chatterjee is that if Maity continues to be defiant, the school’s management committee should be asked to discipline Maity and even replace him.
But Maity is banking on the RKM, which wields a lot of influence. Many top personalities, including Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Modi, are close to the RKM and its top monks, and even Banerjee is very respectful towards them. Even though the school has no formal links with the RKM, it retains its organic ties with the Mission. Students of the school participate in all celebrations and programmes organised by the RKM and in the Mission’s social service projects. Maity may bank on the influence of the RKM to get away with his defiance.
Incidentally, there are many theories on why Banerjee chose this particular colour combination. Some say she drew inspiration from the colour of the saree of Mother Teresa, a figure she reveres. Nuns of the Missionaries of Charity wear blue bordered white sarees like the founder of the order. The hue of blue in Mamata Banerjee chosen and blessed colour combination is exactly the same as that in the nuns' sarees. Others say that she experimented with many colour combinations on canvas - she paints, but her artistic skills evoke extreme reactions - before coming up with the blue and white one that she found pleasing to the eye and senses.
Banerjee has never cleared the air on this and left everyone guessing. But one suggestion got her goat a few years ago. A CPI(M) legislator, while criticising the act of painting all buildings and structures white and blue on the floor of the assembly, suggested that the Chief Minister drew inspiration from the bathroom slippers she wears. At that time, Banerjee used to wear Bata slippers in exactly the same blue and white colour combination. She flew into a wild rage and got the remark expunged. And immediately after that, she started wearing all-white bathroom slippers.
Be that as it may, most in Bengal would not muster Maity's courage to go beyond blue. There is little beyond blue in Bengal. Except a rooftop fine dining restaurant opposite Kolkata's iconic New Market that is named 'Blue & Beyond'. But the establishment didn't draw any inspiration from Mamata Banerjee, it came up much before she ascended to power in Bengal.