KOLKATA: West Bengal chief minister Mamta Bannerjee on Wednesday lost her cool with a journalist who countered her claims about the number of city shops that stayed open during the strike on Wednesday and said: “You are crossing your limits.”
Banerjee was astounded that the reporter dared contradict her claims about the number of shops in the city where business continued as usual Wednesday, the first day of the two-day nation-wide strike called by 11 major trade unions.
The journalist entered into an argument after the chief minister told the media at the state secretariat that the people of the state had rejected the strike call, and that most of the traders in Kolkata kept their shops and business establishments open.
The reporter butted in with an observation that he had seen several shops in the city shut.
Banerjee shot back: “That is rubbish. You only had an overview. You have to go inside a market to see whether shops are open or not. Some traders who had this morning kept shops closed, opened their shutters later.”
The unconvinced journalist insisted that shops were shut even as the chief minister spoke.
Banerjee retorted: “Rubbish! Who told you that those shops were closed? Which media house do you belong to?”
On being told which media house the journalist represented, Banerjee exclaimed: “Oh! That’s why. Oh! That’s why.”
As the journalist stuck to his guns, Banerjee shouted: “Have you come here to do politics? One must be polite while speaking, please. You are crossing your limits. You can express your views in your press. You have your freedom of speech. After watching a few closed shutters, don’t tell me that traders had not kept shops open. I am telling you, I am just coming after a trip around the city.”
Banerjee spoke of other things for a while, but returned to the argument later: “Now you know why I don’t meet you (reporters). I think the attitude must also change. Anybody can express their views, but there is a system.
“You can express your views in your paper. Every day you are abusing me. I have never told you anything, or thrown you out (of my media meets). This is your business policy,” she continued.
Banerjee said some channels close to the opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) were present at the media conference. “I’ve never told them don’t attend (my media meets). There are people who throw out (mediapersons who write against them).”
Banerjee has had several run-ins with the media after becoming chief minister in May 2011. She makes it a point to attack a section of the media critical to her at public meetings.
Earlier this month, Banerjee called photojournalists “uncivilized” and threatened to slap them.
“Ek chor debo. Asabhyagulo! Dekhchen na agune ranna hocche! (I will slap you! Uncivilised people! Don’t you see (they are) cooking? ” Banerjee told the lensmen at the Mati Utsab (Soil Festival) in Panagarh of Bardhaman district, after some flower pots kept at a stall got overturned.
Television cameras picked up the quotes, which were broadcast widely on television channels.
State BJP president Rahul Sinha criticised Banerjee for picking up frequent quarrels with the media.
“Reporters were there to collect news, that is their job. The way the chief minister involves herself in petty quarrels with the media almost daily is quite surprising,” Sinha said.