The Grassroots is Greener on this Side

During an interview in the run-up to the Assembly elections of 2011, when Mamata Banerjee defeated the three-decade old Left Front government, I had asked her if we would witness a greener Bengal if she came to power.

Environment activist Medha Patkar (centre) with Trinamool Rajya Sabha member Dola Sen and the latter’s mother Jayati Sen (seated, right). Photo courtesy of Dola Sen.

“Yes, that is very important,” she had said. “Trees would be planted throughout Bengal.” This was reassuring indeed. We were heartened by Mamata’s refusal to allow the villages of Bengal’s Nandigram and Singur to be turned into petrochemical hubs and factories. We were relieved that the lush green hamlets dotted with clear blue ponds would not be wiped out with tin and concrete.

During this time, Didi, as Mamata is affectionately called, was supported by renowned environmental activist, Medha Patkar. This friendship between Mamata and Medha grew and strengthened over the past decade which saw Mamata return to power with a thumping majority, three times in a row.

Medha’s continued camaraderie is indication that environment and nature is valued by Mamata’s government.

“For Didi, protection of the environment is a priority,” Dola Sen, Mamata’s close aide and her party, Trinamool’s, Rajya Sabha member said. Dola, who is a well-known trade union leader, is herself a self-confessed nature-lover and she was delighted when during a visit to Kolkata on September 1, Medha decided to drop in to meet her and other Trinamool members.

“Medhaji came to Kolkata on a programme of the National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM) yesterday (September 1) and suddenly this morning she came to meet us. Then she called Purnendu Da (Trinamool leader Purnendu Basu) and asked him to come over. Within an hour he was here and we discussed current affairs and various other topics.”

Medha Patkar (back to camera) holds discussions with Purnendu Basu (centre) and Dola Sen (right). Photo courtesy of Dola Sen.

Patkar was introduced to Dola’s mother, Jayati Sen and the two had an affectionate conversation. Patkar recalled how she had joined in the farmer’s movement along with other prominent citizens of the country and how she participated on a four-day hunger strike during this time. “It was Diwali too,” she said, smiling.

Mamata’s land policy does not allow the government or corporates to directly acquire land belonging to villagers of Bengal. Consent must be taken from each and every land-loser before any industrial takeover of land. This and other farmer-friendly policies go a long way in keeping environmentalists happy.

And Medha Patkar is clearly smiling.

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