Food recipe

Momos, puchkas and Mamata’s food recipe to win hearts in the Darjeeling hills

CHIEF MINISTER Mamata Banerjee has spent the past few months trying to rally the opposition for a presidential election, a venture that threatens to turn sour. Clearly, on her three-day trip to the hills of Darjeeling – after an election that had gone her way – the West Bengal Chief Minister was in the mood to let loose.

From serving puchkas to making momos – not an easy art to master – Banerjee packed everything except official meetings while walking the streets of Darjeeling to charm the masses. On Guru Purnima day, she would walk around with sweets for children, placing one in her lap and declaring that for her the day was children’s day.

The quintessential popular politician, Banerjee has long been a familiar figure on the streets of West Bengal – often on marches, once caught up in a scuffle with the authorities that cemented her fame, and interacts regularly with the general public.

During the March 2021 Assembly elections, she had stopped at a stall to make tea. It was in Nandigram, a constituency she then shockingly lost in an election otherwise swept by her party. Prior to the same election, the Trinamool Congress government had also opened food stalls called “Maa” to serve subsidized meals to the poor, watched by posters of Banerjee in a smug grin.

During the Covid lockdown, among the exceptions to the closures in West Bengal were confectioneries, delighting the native Mishti heart.
In fact, on a trip to the hills of North Bengal in April too, Banerjee had stopped at a roadside momo stall and prepared the delicacy with the help of
the store owner.

This time on July 12, while returning from the swearing-in of the new board of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), the CM suddenly went to a roadside snack shop run by an all-women self-help group. The main attraction of the shop was puchka.

Without worrying about the security protocol, she immediately joined the women to prepare the snack, surprising even the traders. Within minutes there was a crowd around her, including children.

Clearly having fun, Banerjee handed out the puchkas even as she gave a brief talk on how to make the mashed potato filling. Before leaving, she paid the traders for the puchkas served.

She then stopped at the city’s Coffee House, accompanied by new GTA chairman Anit Thapa and Bengali film star Saheb Chattopadhyay. At the CM’s request, Chattaopadhyay sang a song by Rabindranath Tagore, with Banerjee humming along.

Coffee also has everything to do with Banerjee. During her visit to Darjeeling in March 2021, she had proposed to the industrialist Satyam Roy Chowdhury to install such a point of sale in the city. Located near the Raj Bhavan, it was erected in three months and was inaugurated by the CM.

On July 12, as she sat down for a cup of coffee, Banerjee joked, “If there’s a will, you can do anything in a very short time.” She then told Thapa about the importance of coffee in Bengali culture and how famous singer Manna Dey sang a song in an old cafe in Kolkata.

During the morning walk the next day, Banerjee walked into a momo store (different from April’s). In a social media post later, the CM wrote, “Today I made momos on my morning walk in Darjeeling. Delighted to share such special moments with my people. Darjeeling will always be in my heart and I salute the hard workers in our hills who make every visit so memorable.

Trinamool Congress leaders say this is indeed true and that Banerjee is happiest when she is in Darjeeling or other hill stations in Bengal. A senior executive said that on this tour she had another reason to be happy. “For the first time, the TMC has achieved success in the hill region, and she believes she has achieved success through her continued relationships with the people of the hills.”

The TMC fought 10 out of 45 GTA election seats and won five. Anit Thapa’s Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM), considered close to the TMC, won 27 seats. These were the first polls of the GTA, the semi-autonomous body that governs the Darjeeling hills in 10 years, held without any violence contrary to apprehensions, and marked a victory for the state government against the once strong claim of the Gorkhaland.

The BJP and its ally the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), as well as the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists boycotted the elections. Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), also an ally of the TMC and who was once in power in the GTA for several years, also did not take part in the polls.

The official reason given by them was that they did not recognize the GTA and demanded the postponement of the elections. However, the elections followed civic polls in which the BJP, GNLF and GJM fared poorly.

The BJP was quick to attack the CM and its “political stunts”. BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “People on the hill are against GTA because it is unconstitutional and illegal. Mamata Banerjee tried divide and conquer in the hills and played all this cheap politics, but it won’t last…”