While Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee remained engrossed with her brushwork, a hundred Bauls (folk singers) sang in chorus as drummers kept their beats to mark the inauguration of “Matir Utsab” (Festival of the Soil) at Panagarh in Bardhaman district on Saturday.

However, the event gained its significance for Ms. Banerjee as it was after a long gap that she was sharing the dais with Magsaysay Award winner Mahasweta Devi, the renowned author and social activist who had distanced herself for some time from Ms Banerjee.

“We have got Mamata after 34 years. This government is in the real sense a government of the poor and whatever work has not been done over the past 34 years will be completed by her,” said Mahasweta Devi at the event

Interestingly, the renowned author who had supported the Trinamool Congress in the run-up to the 2011 Assembly elections, had in the past criticised certain decisions of the Trinamool Congress government including denial of permission to civil rights organisations to hold rallies in the city and restricting the subscription of State-run libraries to only a selected newspapers.

The firebrand activist had not shied from referring to the Trinamool Congress government as a “fascist government”.

Schemes welcomed

Sharing the stage with Ms Banerjee after a span of about 18 months since July 2011, Mahasweta Devi welcomed the State Government’s initiative of digging ponds under “Jal Bharo Jal Dharo” (a water harvesting programme) scheme and providing houses to fishermen. If Mamata follows her path then the others will also realise that people are not going to forgive them for making false promises and doing nothing,” Mahasweta Devi said in an oblique reference to previous Left Front government.

While speaking at the event, Ms Banerjee mentioned her passion for ‘mati’ (soil) and said that the festival has been organised to celebrate ‘mati’ which is the fountainhead of life and culture.

“This government is only for the welfare of the poor who are closest to the soil,” she said, announcing that her government will try to involve the Baul singers in various activities.

Ms Banerjee said that her government will announce a policy so that the folk singers and drummers can be involved in the State government activities, suggesting that they could be used for the polio immunisation campaign by the Health Department.

She also announced that proceeds from her paintings along with those of painter Suvaprassana and Jogen Chowdhury (who also painted with her on the stage) would go for welfare of Baul singers.

Ms Banerjee directed the officials to give Rs 2,500 to each of the artistes who participated in the event.