Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 18:54:21

Emerging Mamata

Updated: November 16, 2013 1:01 pm

Mamata Banerjee, who till 2011 always played the role of opposition in West Bengal, got the power with thumping majority amidst the wave of parivartan. But how would this firebrand lady, who is perceived to be whimsical, rule the state was the biggest question at that time. As soon as Mamata Banerjee took over as the Chief Minister, it was felt that she was unable to handle a series of issues, which came on her way of governance. From handling the debt of the state, or hurriedly passing an ordinance on Singur, which was challenged in court, to passing the comment on Park Street rape case, her role as an administrator was under severe criticism. Even the civil society, which was with her in her movement of parivartan, started opposing her.

She is unquestionably one of the most popular leaders of the country, but at the same time she is also a very hot-headed leader. Everyone knows her wrath, and the way she shows her anger, sparing not even the Prime Minister of the country and her opponents, through her words and deeds, is known to everyone.

Slowly and gradually, it is now felt that things are changing and the wave of parivartan is turning in Mamata’s favour. This parivartan is not of the society or the state but it is the parivartan of Mamata Banerjee herself, from whimsical to cool-headed administrator. Now she mostly reaches to the people and media through her Facebook page, establishing herself in more decent and prompt manner.

Mamata Banerjee, the way she has handled the separatist movement in North Bengal, is earning applause from all quarters of the society, every common man is acknowledging the emerging leader in Mamata Banerjee and her critics are silent. She has no doubt emerged as a powerful and most authoritative leader.

After the declaration of a separate Telangana state by the central government, hills in North Bengal too witnessed a series of protests and bandhs demanding separate Gorkhaland under the leadership of Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, which had organised a series of indefinite shutdowns in July-August to demand statehood.

But before the uprising could take an unprecedented turn, the vision and action of the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee turned everything in her favour and Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, which is heading the movement, is made to bow before the state government. It is important to note how Mamata has handled the hill agitation, i.e. firmness, which was never witnessed in the state, even her predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had limited himself to talk rather than taking harsh steps against those who were demanding the separate state.

The turnaround of Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, which had earlier said that it would not hold talks with the state, had been forced by a combination of factors. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered a series of arrests of Morcha leaders and warned the state government employees in the area, who had skipped work, to join protests. On the other hand, she joined hands with a lesser-known Lepcha community and announced a series of developmental projects for empowering the community in the hills. Furthermore, during the peak hour of tourism that is during festive season this year the tourism industry witnessed total shutdown, which took an economic toll in everyone’s life. The tourism and hotel industry slumped to below 20 per cent, which directly hit the common people of the area, who survive on tourism industry.

All these factors together worked in favour of Mamata Banerjee, which compelled Gorkha Janamukti Morcha to make peace with the state government. The popularity and authority of Mamata Banerjee stood the time, and the results of last Panchayat polls in the state too gave her moral boosts to stand firmly, with people by her side.

Mamata Banerjee, who was recently on a 5-day visit to North Bengal, announced several developmental programmes in the hills. Gorkha Janamukti Morcha MLA Harka Bahadur Chetri, who along with Gorkha Janamukti Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri, the GTA’s acting chief executive Lt Col (retd) Ramesh Allay, MLAs Trilok Dewan and Rohit Sharma and GTA members Jyoti Kumar Rai and PT Ola, met Chief Minister to discuss major issues related to the hills. After the meeting, Gorkha Janamukti Morcha leader and MLA Harka Bahadur Chetri came out and declared “bandh on bandhs”; the statement itself was the clear reflection and indication that Gorkha Janamukti Morcha had agreed with Mamata Banerjee to go into a truce to bring peace in the hills, which a few months ago seemed to be impossible.

This again established Mamata Banerjee as an able statesman and administrator too.

The Morcha delegation that met Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, gave consent to several steps such as they will help restore normalcy in the region that has been paying a heavy economic price because of unrest linked to a statehood demand. The Morcha delegation agreed not to hold bandhs during future agitations. It agreed to participate in bilateral talks with the state government before tripartite talks with the Centre are held. It agreed not to air grievances over the functioning of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, which governs the hills, in public. Problems will be sorted out before a steering committee constituted by the state government. The panel will include Trinamool Congress general secretary Mukul Roy, North Bengal Development Minister Gautam Deb and some officials.

After the hour-long meeting, Mamata Banerjee too expressed satisfaction as she said: “It was a very good meeting and I am very happy. We want to work together and we discussed every issue. You can fight with me but don’t let development work get hampered. The relations are good and we will maintain this relationship.”

Gorkha Janamukti Morcha MLA Harka Bahadur Chetri reciprocated: “For a short period, there was some miscommunication. But after the meeting, we feel there actually was no miscommunication between us.” He said: “In politics there are always ups and downs. But at the meeting, Madam put everything so simply. It appears now that there was no miscommunication at all.” When asked about the fate of the agitation, Chetri said: “The agitation will continue but this will be an agitation for development as we believe development can also lead us to statehood.”

Although the future course is hard to predict, a popular opinion is that immediate strike to press for the statehood demand is no longer feasible as the hill residents want a return to normality so that tourism could again flourish. The main opposition in the state–the Left Front too–acknowledges this success of Mamata Banerjee, when CPI(M) State Secretary Biman Bose, who was in Siliguri for two-day district secretariat meeting, said: “We wanted the Morcha to come to the talks with the government. We welcome the Morcha’s move to listen to the Chief Minister and the government’s decision to go soft.”

The CPI(M) is planning to go back into the hills with a rally in the month of November, as Mamata Banerjee has pushed the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha onto the back foot and carved out a political space for Trinamool Congress in Darjeeling. Biman Bose also said: “We will organise the rally as part of Jyoti Basu’s birth centenary celebrations. In view of the recent political scenario in the hills, it is true that we have lost some foothold and have become weak. But we still exist there.”

Left Front also believes if it fails to prove that it still has some base in the hills, it will affect it politically too. By bringing peace in the hills of North Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has not only calmed the hills but also made Trinamool Congress a major political force in the hills.

Although the CPI(M) has been holding small meetings in its Darjeeling party office for the past couple of years, no state-level leader has attended them. No rally has been organised by the CPI(M) in the hills since the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha’s formation in October 2007. As the CPI(M) is organising rally in the hills, it now wants to see whether Gorkha Janamukti Morcha and Trinamool Congress would allow any space to the CPI(M) or not.

Although, Mamata Banerjee has a long way to go to prove her worth, no doubt after attaining the power of Bengal in 2011, it is sure that Mamata Banerjee, who is the last word in the government and administration, has been successful in curbing the Maoist menace in the state by killing Kishanji and now by calming down the Gorkhaland Movement. She has established herself more mature as a politician, a mass leader and a statesman and no doubt she is going to be the most defining figure in the upcoming general election.

By Joydeep Dasgupta from Kolkata

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