Who is Haridas Pal? West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s lively campaign speech in Kolkata, where she compared BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to Haridas Pal and assorted fauna, has set off a nationwide search for this mysterious personality. Modi himself is said to have made discreet inquiries about him. The latest player in this high voltage election, the much discussed swing factor in Bengal, the hidden paw, the foreign hand, the chokranto (conspiracy) could be none other than Haridas Pal. According to legend, this shadowy gentleman was a rich zamindar and even has a lane in Kolkata named after him. Once upon a time, it is said, the name stood for grandeur. Then it came to mean delusions of grandeur. Nowadays, poor Haridas Pal is just a useless person, a non-entity. Until he was catapulted into national politics by Banerjee, that is.
Indeed, colloquial Bengali could supply some useful stock characters for national politics. For instance, Nanda Ghosh, the scapegoat — parties dealing with electoral defeat will need one. Or Ram Sanna, the doomsaying sage, who would be invaluable in the opposition against a euphoric government. Of course, one character who joined politics long ago is Fatakeshto. This legendary dacoit was a by-word for thuggery before he was immortalised on film by Mithun Chakraborty. In MLA Fatakeshto, the goon with a heart of gold joins government for seven days and solves corruption by the simple expedient of beating people up. This approach is clearly a hit, since in Minister Fatakeshto, he takes over the state’s finance ministry, thrashes out some pressing fiscal problems and wins hearts in the process. Surely the most successful image makeover till date in Indian politics.
These characters have the common touch that so many parties are looking for. They could be the men of the moment. Just ask Ram, Shyam, Jodu, Modu (or Tom, Dick and Harry).