Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s inability to transform herself from a rabblerouser to a responsible politician cannot but have come as a huge disappointment to the people of West Bengal.
Having lived through three decades of the Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) cadre raj, they expected that the ‘paribartan’ or change promised by the feisty Trinamool Congress leader would bring to an end the practice of the government tailoring its words and deeds to partisan requirements. If anyone was thought to be the right person to do so, it was Mamata because of her common touch, which has long been evident in the way she dresses and lives.
In their eagerness, however, to bid goodbye to the past, the average citizen may have overlooked some of the glaring deficiencies in Mamata’s political and administrative style.
For one, her politics had always been marked by the one-point agenda of ousting the Left. To achieve this goal, she did not hesitate to switch back and forth between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, suggesting that she was a weather-cock who did not have a clear ideological vision. An offshoot of this itinerant political style is she cannot be depended upon – a fickleness which the Congress is ruing today.
For another, her stint as railway minister in both Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s and Manmohan Singh’s cabinets – an apt example of her brittle loyalties – showed that she had little interest in dull, desk-bound, routine but essential work on files. There was a period towards the last few months of her tenure when her visits to the ministerial office in Delhi became few and far between as she concentrated on fighting her political battles in West Bengal.
The warning conveyed by that period of absenteeism about what can be expected of her as chief minister has now been fulfilled. But it isn’t the lack of attendance which is a worry this time, but her hogging of all the limelight and turning all other ministers, who include a former chief secretary and a secretary of a chamber of commerce, into ciphers. This trait of grabbing everything herself was evident when she was the only cabinet minister from her party in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet although with 19 MPs, Trinamool Congress could have had three full-time ministers. But Mamata evidently did not want to have anyone else of an equal rank from her party in the cabinet.
What this denotes is a sense of insecurity, which is surprising in a one-person party. Arguably, it is her ordinary upbringing, limited education and lack of any ideological depth which explains why she wants to keep all those with a more impressive bio-data at arm’s length. Besides, the 14-year-old Trinamool itself is an artificial construct, comprising defectors from the Congress, fading film stars, a pro-Maoist song writer and other time-servers.
If the chief minister is insecure in her own party, she is paranoid about what is happening outside. Hence her description of cases of rape and of deaths of children in hospitals as evidences of a conspiracy against her government. But if she barely escaped being severely censured because of her indifference to the hospital deaths, she has evoked widespread outrage at the way she initially dismissed as “concocted” the case of a gangrape in a moving car of a woman returning from a night club.
Taking a cue from the chief minister, police were equally callous about the woman’s plight. It was only when Mamata’s outrageous conduct hit the national headlines that she woke up and accused police of mishandling the case. But the gaffe hasn’t prevented her from recounting the irrelevant detail of another rape victim being the widow of a CPI-M supporter.
Apart from these incidents, the outbreak of campus violence, the clashes between the Trinamool and Leftist workers and the threats of extortion faced by businessmen and traders show there has been no ‘paribartan’ at all. If there has been any change, it is that the place of the Marxist myrmidons has been taken by their Trinamool counterparts in accordance with the familiar habit of goons switching sides from the loser to the winner.
Yet, at a time when the law and order situation remains volatile and Mamata appears to be out of her depth in the chief minister’s position, she has taken the curious decision to paint Kolkata blue as if a facelift is all that is needed to set things right. The move is all the more strange considering that West Bengal faces a debt burden of Rs.2.3 lakh crore and that the prospect of an economic revival is minimal in view of Mamata’s aversion to private sector investment.
After the long years of leftist rule, virtually from 1967, and Maoist depredations with their ruinous impact on the state’s economy and work culture, the need was for a leader with vision, who was aided by talented non-Communist economists and administrators. But West Bengal’s misfortune is to be denied all of this.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com
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