January 7th, 1993 – there was a furore at the Writer’s Bloc in (the then) Calcutta. Dipali Basak, a deaf-dumb girl was allegedly raped by a CPI(M) leader. Ms. Mamata Banerjee had brought the girl along with her and demanded a meeting with the then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. After making them wait for many hours, and finding no signs of her leaving, the police were asked to evacuate Mamata from the building. Mamata was unceremoniously dragged down the stairs of Writer’s Bloc. On 20th May, 2011, she entered the same building, as the first woman Chief Minister of West Bengal, the lady who vanquished the “Goliath” of the Left Rule. For Ms. Mamata Banerjee it has indeed been a long journey, but just an year into the new rule, and not much seems to have changed in Bengal. Whether the state moved from the pan to the proverbial fire is to be seen in the coming years. But if the trend of current affairs in the administration of West Bengal is to be believed, the mirage of a good administration may have yet again led the people astray.
Mamata’s political career that began under the auspices of Congress has had a chequered pattern. Her fire-brand personality catapulted her to the helm of the Congress party in West Bengal. Always wont to speak her mind bluntly, Ms. Mamata Banerjee was equally eloquent in her forms of protest to drive the matter across. When Sri Jayaprakash Narayan visited West Bengal to rally against Mrs. Indira Gandhi, it was Mamata who laid herself down on the path of his cavalcade, blocking the car. And on this day, she still continues to block every progressive move initiated by the Government – from the Railway Budget to FDI to digitization of the cable TV network. The sole purpose of her life was to see the downfall of the Left front in Bengal, and whenever the incumbent party at the centre was not game for this, she proved to be quite a thorn in the foot. After falling out of the Congress party, and floating her own Trinamool Congress, she entered into an alliance with the BJP led NDA. Even there her spanner tactics continued till she fell out of the alliance in the wake of the Tehelka scam. After suffering an embarassing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004, she returned to the fold of NDA, only to abandon it again in favor of her erstwhile parent party – Congress. In these years she had already been under various portfolios – Sports, Railways and Coal too. Her maverick attitude, lacking finesse especially needed in a field such as politics had been evident all through her career. Be it dragging the SP MP by holding his collar for opposing the Women’s Reservation Bill (its really my favorite and I totally support her actions!! 😉 ) or hurling her resignation papers at the speaker, she has often seemed attention mongering. With frequent blackmail tactics of resigning or withdrawing support, she had proved a bane for the NDA and is proving to be one for the UPA.
The Left Front played itself into a corner when it brought matters to a boil at Singur and Nandigram. Mamata seized the opportunity and nailed the final nail to the Left Front’s coffin, thus ending a rule spanning over 3 decades. There is no doubt a lot of respect that I give for her simple living that marks her personality, but I am not sure if an attitude ridden by vindictive mentality can really provide an efficient administration. Needless to say, within a year of coming to power, she has practically blamed every crime and corruption on the Left Front, or sought to give an angle of conspiracy to malign her administration.
Politics is a powerful weapon of change but in the wrong hands, it has always turned into a WMD, especially when coupled with a vengeance. Sadly that has been the order of Indian politics in many of the primary states. Of the many, may be Mamata has enough reasons to be smelling a conspiracy theory. The Left Front has always been at the forefront of crying foul over every administrative failure – right from American underhandedness to aliens from outer space. The quickness with which they were wont to object to any reforms by the Union Government and their handling of the local matters, got them booted out in both of their strong factions – Bengal and Kerala. And where CPM was not wanted, Mamata made her presence, and that was the window she opted for in UPA too. But has her role been any different at the Centre than that of CPM? While CPM saw a capitalistic conspiracy, Mamata’s misplaced Ma, Maati, Manus has left a dent on any reforms needed for the Indian economy. Politics makes strange bed fellows, and it has always remained a love-me-hate-me relationships between the so called “allies”. The Railway budget was a crucial factor in improving an industry that has long suffered. Agreed that a blanket increase may have cost the poorer sections of the society, but certainly a dialogue could’ve been called for, and the budget terms negotiated. But Mamata’s behavior in unilaterally recalling Dinesh Trivedi, causing a major embarassment to the ruling coalition is a shameful act. It reeks of autocratic behavior and is most offensive to a democratic setup. If sycophancy is celebrated, there can be no greater tragedy needed in the present India which is crying for socio-economic and spiritual reforms all over the country. Even the movements of Anna Hazare has sadly fallen short of meeting this. The argument that every major National Party prefers sycophants and their drama is no argument in her defense. A political or social change can never be brought by being the same as everyone else. And this is again the reason why Ms Mamata Banerjee’s tenure till now in West Bengal is also a cause for concern.
When the police unraveled the rape case that happened at the Park Street, instead of commending the female officer – Damayanti Sen, she was transferred from her position because “it is the prerogative of my government to get the job done by someone who can perform in a better way“. Without even batting an eyelid, Mamata had cast aspersions on the rape victim and so did her indigenous minister, but when the police enquiry found otherwise, it ended up as an embarassment to the ‘Didi’. It is a surprise that this was the Mamata Banerjee who took up the cause of Dipali Basak. But then, maybe rape victims also turn out to be ploys in the hands of politicians to take on their adversaries? And the opposition was also put to blame in yet another rape case, allegedly of a CPM leader’s wife. Not to mention that the TMC members beat up an old scientist’s daughter and stripped her naked and left her bleeding on the road, while the police turned a blind eye to the whole incident. The same treatment was meted to another lady who opposed a hooch shop in the village (her husband was from CPM). If Mamata cries foul about the Center playing truant in the matters of NCTC and using the Central intelligence as its stooge, the state governments have not been any clean and it is evident in her handling of the state forces in West Bengal.
The dictatorial trends are not only limited to the state forces and their functions but it is appalling to realize that the government institutions can also be used to manipulate the general public. The dictum to abolish the English dailies from being used in the State libraries and controlling which newspaper is to be procured for public reading, betrays a sense of insecurity in the newly elected chief minister, not to mention the enraging arrest of the professors for circulating a cartoon strip on Mamata Banerjee! While some “commandments” are ridiculous (forbidding TMC members from marrying into CPM households, attending dinner parties or indulging in small talk with CPM members), her opposition to the FDI in retail sector, the sharing of Teesta waters with Bangladesh, Lokpal Bill and in the latest the digitization of cable TV network are grave portends to a set back that the nation as a whole will have to pay for. There is no single party in the present Indian political scenario that would not fit into the description or the outline that we see in case of Ms. Mamata Banerjee. The chronic illness that has gripped the political scenario currently is the fact that either a personality or a dynasty has gained predominance over the principles or ethics emphasized by the principal founders. The centralization of personality and its dominance has resulted in a lack of regional leadership amongst the central parties. This leads to exploitation on a National scale by petty regional parties much to the chagrin of an entire nation, as was evidenced by the 2G Scam.
What is particularly disappointing about Ms. Mamata Banerjee’s turn around is the hope that was on the high when she assumed her office. This was an opportunity that was handed over to her with great pomp and glory, a chance to give a new beginning to the people of Bengal, and set a precedence to other regional parties to gain eminence based on good governance. It may not be too late yet, but it certainly needs a lot of soul searching on her part. It takes more courage to accept one’s own shortcomings and bridge that gap, than to point fingers and follow the path hitherto taken by her adversaries. If she wants to carve a niche to herself as a statesperson, it would bode well to set her house in order and take strigent measures to combat the rowdy elements within and outside the party. Democracy can never function while clouded by the clout of a father figure, or a Big sister, breathing down the neck.
Pic courtesy: wikipedia.