Her smiling visage, besides the logo of the big tournament, adorns most roadside billboards. Her pet project for women and branding of Bengal are showcased all over. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has taken a world class tournament -- the FIFA Under-17 World Cup -- to project herself as an effective leader and with copious dollops of funds from the government coffers.
Plaques of iconic statues in the U-17 stadium premises have engravings proudly declaring she had conceptualised and designed them. The tournament has provided her the opportunity to project her image and that of her initiatives before a wider audience.
"It is remarkable how she has encouraged everyone about the World Cup. A large number of people from around the world have come here for the tournament. I'm sure they'll love "Biswa Bangla" and also love our leader for creating it," said Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim.
With the tournament moving towards to its grand finale, numerous banners and hoardings headlined "Biswa Bangla e Biswacup" (The World Cup in Biswa Bangla) catch the eye. The hoardings invariably carry a smiling Banerjee, apart from the U-17 logo.
The opposition is not amused, though. Left Front legislature party leader Sujan Chakraborty termed it a "nasty political move" by the government. "Starting from the statue to the banners of the World Cup, everything is highlighted in a way as if the World Cup is a concept of our chief minister, " Chakraborty told IANS.
"She knows very well that the state is lagging behind in every aspect. That's why they are trying to create a false impression that they are superior organisers," he added.
According to the government website, the Chief Minister had, after taking over the reins of the state in 2011, conceptualised the Biswa Bangla brand that "strives to advance the cross-cultural understanding of Bengal's art and craft at a global level through identification, documentation and conservation."
On both sides of Biswa Bangla Sarani as well as the beautified E.M. Bypass that leads to the stadium, banners hailing Banerjee's Kanyashree project have been set up along with the World Cup banners. The state government's initiative, awarded by the United Nations earlier this year, strives to prevent child marriages by incentivising education of the girl child.
The government has also come up with a separate Bengali theme song "Sob khelar sera Banglar Tumi Football" (Football, thou art the best sport of Bengal) for the tournament, a take on the popular film song of the 1970s "Sob khelar sera Bangalir tumi Football" (Football thou art the best sport of Bengalis).
The new theme song, also conceptualised by Banerjee, touches upon Bengal's eternal love for the game. Its last line "Ebar Khela Jombe Bangla" (Bengal... the game is on) has been used as a slogan in posters and banners.
At the VIP entry gate of the stadium is sculpted the lower torso of a footballer with a ball at his feet and the Biswa Bangla logo above its waist. The headless sculpture has again been conceptualised and designed by Banerjee. But while the figure has been lauded by some, it has also become the butt of jokes in social media.
A few steps from the headless footballer stands a statue of the 19th century ascetic Swami Vivekananda, the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. The plaque at the statue again credits Banerjee with having conceptualised the idea.
She's being accused of stealing the centre's thunder. "The state government has stolen the idea of many central government schemes and promoted them as its own. Now they are shamelessly trying to steal the credit of hosting the world cup. It is because of the centre (and Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji's initiative) that the nation is hosting the U-17 World Cup," BJP's secretary Rahul Sinha told IANS.
For now, she seems to have taken a lead in her own state in garnering credit for a global event, well-aided by the state's beleaguered exchequer.
(Milinda Ghosh Roy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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