One Year of Parivartan in Bengal Sweet Or Sour?
The government in West Bengal led by firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee has just completed one year. A year before, Mamata Banerjee successfully uprooted the longest Left Front government in the world from the seat of power with the support of the people. People gave Mamata Banerjee the mandate, as she promised time and again that if given a chance she would bring a new wave of development in Bengal.
People wanted the change, and the change took place. And now it is the time to look back and what has been the experience of the people who wanted a change. Some section of people believes Mamata Banerjee should be given more time before criticising her. Uday India takes stock of one year of parivartan. Has Mamata Banerjee fulfilled her promises which she once committed before the people of Bengal? What are the areas where she scores and where she fails?
If one goes by the history of India, one cannot find an incident like Singur, where a proposed car factory had to shift only because of resistance from the Opposition party. The Left Front government then in power acquired 998 acres of land to hand over to Tata Motors to set up a small car industry. This was an initiative to give oxygen to the industry deprived state. But since land was acquired from the unwilling farmers, Mamata Banerjee tried to cash in on this issue, raised by the landless farmers, by resorting to fast for 27 days and finally compelled Tata to move out of Bengal.
The issue of returning land to farmers in Singur remains an unsolved mystery. It is on hold with the order of High Court. Mamata promised that within a month after coming to power she’ll solve the Singur issue. But even after her government has completed one full year in power, the issue still remains unsolved.
Farmers didn’t get their land, but even in the absence of Nano factory, the site remains a landmark on National Highway 2. Farmers who fought with Mamata Banerjee have started losing confidence in the government. Leaders of this movement Becharam Manna is now an MLA; he has more important things to do than returning land to the farmers.
The Maoist problem seems to be at a halt after the killing of Maoist leader Kishenji, which is one of the greatest achievements so far in this one year of rule. This achievement needs to be acknowledged as the government has driven the biggest problem out of the state, which had once created havoc taking hundreds of lives and holding government plans and actions in the districts of Paschim Medinapur, Purulia and Bankura. But CPI(M) leader Mohammad Salim says “Before election Mamata Banerjee even praised Maoist leader Azad at a rally in Lalgarh demanding justice for him and according to her there is no Maoist in the area, they are all CPI(M) goons. So killing Kishenji may not be counted as the success of her government.”
“MAMATA SEEMS TO BE A SYMBOL OF LIES”—Mohammad Salim
Senior CPI(M) Leader
Senior CPI(M) Leader Mohammad Salim says that although the Trinamool Congress under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee may have completed its one year, the coming days may not be good for Mamata as she has not kept the promise she made to the people before the election. Mohammad Salim spoke on various issues related to Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress in an interview to Uday India’s Joydeep Dasgupta. Excerpts:
How will you rate the Trinamool Congress government’s one year in the state ?
There is nothing much to say on this. Already Mamata Banerjee has said that she has already performed 110 per cent out of 100 per cent work in the state. Also she has said that she has completed 10 years work in a year, which means two tenures of her government are already completed.
No doubt, she came with a vast majority in the state, now people seem to be disillusioned with her. Now she seems to be a “symbol of lies” vis-a-vis she was portrayed as the “symbol of truth” just a year before. In a single year the truth is out, she has become a topic of discussion not only in the state but also in the national and international arenas.
How do you see the Singur issue, the main issue which ensured her the confidence of people now seems to be relegated to the back burner?
It was an unprecedented incident. Mamata Banerjee became famous only by driving the Tata Motors out of the state. She promised the unwilling peasants that on the same land she would start cultivation of cucumber and onion. But nothing of that sort happened.
You have to accept her success in curbing the Maoists in the state by killing Kishenji.
Before election she said that there was no Maoists in the state, it was all done and organised by CPIM cadres. So there is no question of Kishenji or Suchitra Mahato. She also demanded justice in Maoist leader Azad’s killing. It is a known fact that she took their support and now after becoming Chief Minister she is avoiding such uncomfortable past incidents.
How do you see the Congress-TMC alliance at the Centre and in the state?
There is so much of mistrust between TMC and Congress both at the Centre and in the state. Bengal package was declared in 1987 and now when the situation is favourable why don’t they implement Bengal package, meant for the overall development of the state?
As you are criticising TMC-led government in its one year, what is the CPIM doing as you are, some way or other responsible for the shifting of people’s confidence?
Yes, I agree we have lost confidence of the people because of government lapses and high-handedness of some of our leaders and cadres. After the defeat we are introspecting, we are trying to find out where we failed. We are preparing ourselves to regain electoral strength by trying to reconnect to the people by revamping our organisation and mobilising the poor and disgraced people.
Mamata Banerjee is in the limelight even the superpower like USA is acknowledging this, your take on this.
Time magazine rated Mamata Banerjee among the 100 most powerful people of the world, but I’ll say she herself is equal to 100. The US has been cultivating and now it is the time to harvest in the field of education, FDI and all by using Mamata Banerjee, changing our democratic and foreign policies.
How do you see a section of civil society? Intelligentsia is moving away from Mamata Banerjee and is criticising the government policies in the state?
This is natural what civil society and Intelligentsia are doing. People expect intellectuals to use their intellect since they can foresee the situation and it’s their duty to apprise people of what is going wrong and where it is going to lead. They are independent analysts. They have in-depth knowledge and free thinking and courage to stand up and counter government wrong policies.
How do you compare the first year of the Left Front government in the state with the first year of Trinamool Congress-led government in the state?
First year of TMC cannot be compared with the Left Front government. After coming to power for the first time in 1977 we plunged into action. We brought Panchayat system, decentralisation of power, agricultural reforms, democratisation of government bodies. Power was given to the people directly, land was given to landless poor farmers under operation “Bargah”. Immediately, after a year in power in 1978 there was big flood in the state. Government with the support of people and party cadres plunged into action and started a rescue operation and rehabilitation. Full of activities and no criticism of people, we have done all with the support of people.
Problem in Hills
On the other hand, in order to solve the issue of Gorkhaland in North Bengal, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, a autonomous body, giving power to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha is formed by the state government but the situation becomes from bad to worse.
After a prolonged dilly-daliance with setting up of an interim setup, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha time and again demands for the immediate bifurcation of Bengal, threatening an indefinite strike paralysing life and tourism industry in the hills of North Bengal.
However, government’s primary focus on the issues with which it came to power seems to be away from its fulfillment. The government seems more engaged in controversies everyday, than fulfilling the promises which Mamata Banerjee and her party once made before the people of Bengal, in her party’s election manifesto.
Some recent incidents have become a matter of embarrassment for both Mamata Banerjee and her government, when again the intellectuals and the civil society united against her decisions and diktats.
Dinesh Trivedi episode
As Chief Minister, she has made it clear that she will not tolerate a differing view, much less dissent. This was substantiated in the Dinesh Trivedi episode, when Trivedi was unceremoniously sacked as Union Railway Minister for not toeing her line on the Union Railway budget. While it brought about a bad image of Mamata Banerjee in a wider section of society, people of the country did not accept the move.
Rape in the city and transfer of the officer
Damyanti Sen, the feisty, young Joint Commissioner of Police, Kolkata, who cracked the Park Street rape case, was shunted out to an obscure job for proving Ms Banerjee wrong whose first response to the rape charge and, indeed, news of infant cradle deaths, was that they had been “manufactured to malign her government”. Rather than to stand by the victim the Chief Minister has insulted the whole of womanhood in society.
Just about a month or more ago, the government libraries were told to purchase only eight newspapers. Those taken off the list were those critical of her actions and policies, as they prevented “freethinking” among readers, the government circular declared. In future, she said, she might even ask people to stop buying certain newspapers “because a conspiracy is going on against us”. The newspapers that offended her included the top-selling Ananda Bazaar Patrika, The Telegraph and Bartaman: Interestingly, Bartaman, whose strident anti-Left stance played a leading role in bringing the Trinamool to power, is now running stories highly critical of Mamata Banerjee and her government. Later, under pressure, five newspapers—a Nepali daily, two Bengali dailies, and The Times of India—were restored in the “government” list.
Censorship on free expression
Another incident came to the fore when she ordered arrest of a Jadavpur University chemistry Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra on charges of violating the modesty of a woman, spreading social ill-will and disrupting social harmony, merely for sharing a cartoon online. Later, it transpired that Dr Mahapatra, as assistant secretary of the New Garia Development Cooperative Housing Society where he lives had blocked the Trinamool-backed syndicate’s contracts to supply building materials, inviting wrath of the party’s goons.
This episode has galvanised the people of Bengal, especially the intellectuals who had once risen against the Left Front has now come against Trinamool. Social networking site too played a vital role in mobilising the mass against the Chief Minister and state government. Later, it seems childish when the state government orders the State CID to ask Facebook to delete morphed images of Mamata Banerjee, after a Trinamool supporter complained that “objectionable comments” were flooding social networking sites. Since then, a group of intellectuals has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemning the government’s action.
Nonadanga Eviction Episode
The episode came after the arrest of molecular biologist Partha Sarathi Ray who had in April joined a protest against the eviction of slum-dwellers in east Kolkata. The signatories include Noam Chomsky, Mriganka Sur and Abha Sur of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, top scientists from the IITs and institutes in Denmark, Singapore and Sweden, as well as activists like Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey.
The sentimental Bengalis who once turned the tide of public opinion in the Trinamool’s favour are angry today.
Writer Mahasweta Devi, one among those who had backed Mamata in her fight against the Left Front, recently said: “Dictatorship has never worked. Neither did it work in Hitler’s Germany nor did it work in Mussolini’s Italy.”
Mamata Banerjee may be in limelight with hundred most influential people of the world as Time Magazine declares and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Mamata Banerjee shows her as an important and inspiring leader. Her popularity may still be intact in rural Bengal, but dealing with the incidents the way she is doing may also affect her rural support base and image very soon.
Therefore, the only hope and expectation of the people who voted in her favour and who showed faith in her is that Mamata Banerjee too needs some parivartan of her own, otherwise the situation may go from bad to worse. For, the same opinion-making Bengali can bring in parivartan against her too if she does not change herself. As it is rightly said: “Change is the unchanged law of nature.”
By Joydeep dasgupta from Kolkata