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Has Mamata lost her way, totally?

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Amitava Mukherjee
(The author is a senior journalist and commentator. The views expressed are his personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

Even in the midst of the high-pitched game of one-upmanship between the BJP and the Trinamul Congress (TMC) led by Mamata Banerjee, an average Bengali is found to be unhappy. He has reasons to be so. In independent India Bengali society and polity have never been found to be on such an edge – linguistic, chauvinistic and community wise. Even without going into the merit of the Central government’s advisory to the Government of West Bengal under Article 355 of the Constitution, it can safely be said that Mamata’s performance as an administrator has left much to be desired.

The ongoing hue and cry over attacks on junior doctors of the NRS Medical College in Kolkata is also an outcome of years of sloppy administration of the State Health Department.

For a populist leader remaining in the Opposition is always more rewarding. He or she can launch agitations at the drop of a hat and can easily strike a chord with popular demands kindling a hope among the masses that all of their aspirations would be fulfilled when the leader comes to power. But this is a double-edged weapon. It helps one to defeat the rival but hangs over the head as the Sword of Damocles when he or she is occupying the throne. Mamata defeated Buddhadev Bhattacharjee and the CPI-M using the Singur issue, but could not find any worthwhile alternative solution once the Tatas were turned out of the proposed Nano car factory project by a court order. The farmers have got back their lands. But are they in cultivable condition even now? Doling out subsidized rice to the affected farmers’ families is no solution.

Mamata can blame no one else but herself for the precarious situation her party is now in. She started making mistakes from the very first day— when she constituted her first Cabinet. She should have remembered that the rough and tumble of politics does not give one many chances. Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, the last CPI-M Chief Minister of the State, had committed just two mistakes in Singur and Nandigram, and that has landed the CPI-M in front of the spectre of total marginalization. Similarly, a large number of the people of West Bengal started getting disillusioned with Mamata Banerjee when, at the time of her first ministry formation in 2011, she had left out many honest, educated and highly competent persons from her Cabinet and gave Cabinet berths to some persons of questionable credentials.

Mamata’s persona does not tolerate dissent. This was the reason behind her exit from the Congress as she could not put up with Congress’ the then policy of cooperation with the Left. But she cannot carry out separation without bitterness and remaining true to her characteristics she hurled many aggressive personal comments against Somen Mitra, who was then the State Congress chief. Flip flops in her political career are too many. She joined the BJP-led central ministry, left it in a huff and again tried to rejoin. In doing so, she had earned extreme displeasure of L.K. Advani. Except late Atal BihariVajpayee and Rajnath Singh, very few BJP leaders are known to have favourable dispositions towards her.

This is likely to create serious problems for Mamata Banerjee in the days to come. She has not helped matters by uttering some extremely injudicious comments by identifying one particular community as her core constituency and admitting that she pampers it. This is something she should have avoided keeping in mind the syncretic tradition of the state. Or just try to remember her caustic words for Narendra Modi and the BJP-‘democratic slaps’(for Modi and the BJP), ‘I will square up the account by every inch’ or ‘They (who?) will have to do stand up and sit down by holding their ears’. These words should have been avoided.

Graceful example is available in Orissa, West Bengal’s neighbouring State. Nabin Pattanaik and his Biju Janata Dal (BJD) have trounced the BJP in both parliamentary and State Legislative elections. But there has been no personal bad blood, at least outwardly, between Nabin Pattanaik and Narendra Modi. Even during electioneering the two combatants never breached decorum. This happened despite the fact that the BJD has left the NDA long back and refused to reenter in spite of coaxing and cajoling by the BJP before the election.

Where Nabin Pattanaik excelled, Mamata has flopped. Both Mamata and her TMC have failed in matters of political behaviour although the former has launched many welfare measures that have benefited the common people. But she often forgets what to say, when to say and what not to say. There is one more ominous signal for her political future — often she seems to be relying on departmental reports and does not cross-check them at the grassroots level. This happened when a woman was raped inside a car at night. At first the West Bengal Chief Minister described the report to be false. Obviously, her source was police reports. Later on as the allegation came out to be true, Mamata arranged security cover for the hapless lady.

But according to Mamata’s own public statement her words now carry no more convictions with a section of the state police. This is her failure. Never before in the political history of West Bengal such a thing happened. Even in 1967 when the ministry was vertically divided between those supporting Ajoy Mukherjee, the chief minister, and the ones supporting the CPI-M, the police maintained a neutral role and discharged its constitutional responsibilities.

But Mamata is right on one point. Political violence in West Bengal has not reached any ominous point so as to raise voices of consternation. The State has seen much more violence during the time of the Left Front. However, Keshri Nath Tripathi, the Governor of the State, was well within his right to call an all-party meeting on the issue. He is the constitutional head of the State government and enjoys much more administrative jurisdiction than what a titular chief can command.