Mainstream

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2011 > Essence of the Change that Mamata has Ensured

Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 34, August 13, 2011 - INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

Essence of the Change that Mamata has Ensured

Saturday 20 August 2011, by Amitava Mukherjee

LETTER FROM KOLKATA

There are three important political milestones for the Bengalis in the post-colonial period. The first one certainly started with the independence of the country. Bengal was divided but it was certainly saved from the catastrophe which Sarat Bose’s plan of a united independent Bengal might have brought about. The second was the coming into power of the United Front in 1967. In every respect it marked the beginning of the downslide of Bengali life. This dark age continued till 2011 when Mamata Banerjee came to power by uprooting a decadent communist rule.

Mamata Banerjee, as the Chief Minister of West Bengal, will be nearly three months old as this copy goes to print. It is not yet time to pass judgments on her performance or what should be expected of her. Mostly there are silver-linings on the horizon. At the same time it would be improper to say that there are no signs of nimbus clouds. The political behaviour of the Trinamul Congress is now under a scanner. Before the Assembly elections the CPM tried to raise the bogey of the 1972-type hooliganism. That did not work. The results indicated that the people are not interested to pay any heed to orchestrated canards.

Middle-class vested interests of Left orientation are feeling threatened. Their privileges have gone. And what were those privileges? A man becomes the Vice-Chancellor of a University claiming to hold a doctorate degree which he did not really possess. A hue and cry engulfs the State. The man is condemned everywhere. But the Chief Minister of the State, himself a mediocre student by academic standards, hails the man as a foremost linguist. In government hospitals common people are harassed. But when even a non-descript lady DYFI activist is admitted in the premier SSKM hospital, doctors escort the lady to the ward.

Mamata Banerjee’s greatest achievement lies in the fact that she has enabled the people of West Bengal to heave a sigh of relief, to taste an air of freedom and move in an ambience where there is no communist tyranny. Future generations will remember her for her heroic, almost single-handed, success in removing a corrupt and immoral formation in the shape of the Left Front whose dominant force was the CPM.

Her three-month-old government has raised many hopes and dashed many hidden aspirations. Well, you can find some motivated doubting Thomases who are now going from door to door shedding crocodile tears over the ‘violence in West Bengal’. A similarity is noticeable when at the time of elections some discredited persons, describing themselves as Left intellectuals, had taken upon themselves the responsibility of ‘reminding the people of West Bengal about the dark days of 1972’. But these conscience-keepers were nowhere to be seen when at least one Trinamul supporter used to be killed each day for the last six months prior to the elections. The pages of local vernacular dailies will bear this out.

Honestly speaking, the victory of the United Front in 1967 was made possible because the Communists could successfully defile and misguide the Bengali mind which often borders on credulity. Just recall the false propagandas against Prafulla Chandra Sen and Atulya Ghosh who were head and shoulder above any Left politician of the 1960s and thereafter. A prominent film personality, claiming to be a Left intellectual, danced on the streets of Calcutta with green bananas as P.C. Sen had recommended it for consumption of the Bengalis due to a severe ongoing food crisis. Or just recall the blatant lie of calling Atulya Ghosh a Pakistani agent.

From the days of the freedom struggle romanticism has been an Achilles’ heel of the Bengali mind. Before 1947, Bengal got itself distanced from the mainstream nationalist politics due to this weakness. This trait continued to work through the 1950s. Bengalis failed to realise that the dhoti-kurta-clad middle-class communism was a sham and was as bad as bandit capitalism, although in a different manner. The two victories of the Left in 1967 and 1969 were made possible due this misplaced romantic but unrealistic idealism. The coming of the Left not only shattered the rule of law and the State’s economy, it destroyed the moral fabric of Bengali life.

THE fundamental difference between the 34 years of Left Front rule, a worse variation of the United Front regimes of the 1960s, and that of the incumbent Trinamul Congress-led government lies here. It is best represented by the personal lifestyle of Mamata Banerjee and those of some of the Left Front Ministers. Jyoti Basu was no doubt the worst example of misuse of adminis-trative power. His residence at Salt Lake looked like the abode of a feudal lord. Large areas around his residence used to be cordoned off on the flimsy ground of safety. But who would have really wanted to harm Jyoti Basu? As an individual he did not have the capacity to gather even 500 people around him.

A leader should lead by example. Mamata, in spite of being the Chief Minister of a State, has refused to leave her non-descript ancestral home. Unlike Jyoti Basu, she flaunts no convoy whenever she moves. Opinions may differ but it will not be an overstatement to say that the poor people of West Bengal never considered Bidhan Chandra Roy as their own representative. Nor was B.C. Roy known to be harbouring any sentimental bond with the poor and down-trodden. He did many things for the struggling masses. But his distance from them was too pronounced. Mamata’s most remarkable achievement lies in the fact that she is regarded by the people of West Bengal as one of them.

There are many confused intellectuals who say that they do not expect much from the Trinamul-led government. But none of them has been able to delineate what their expectation really is. If West Bengal has already benefited from the exit of the Communists, it is in the arena of intellectuals. An example of it is Sunil Gangopadhyay, the Bengali litterateur. He is now finding the going tough and has resigned from a committee set up by the previous government. But what has been his record? He ridiculed the Trinamul-led agitation in Singur on behalf of poor farmers. He even veered from the truth and said that the Opposition had started the agitation when the factory was almost complete. But the fact remains that protests by farmers had started from the first day of land acquisition. Sunil’s temerity did not stop there. For the carnage of Nandigram he held the Opposition equally responsible without answering the question as to who had opened fire on the unarmed, peaceful villagers. (Ananda Bazar Patrika, May 11, 2011)

Equally disturbing has been the pronounce-ments of Mrinal Sen, a noted Left leaning film-maker. In his paean to the Left Front Mrinal Sen discovered a bizarre achievement of the former: that the people had tasted a free and easy life under the Front. He forgot the experience of the people of Singur and Nandigram. Not content with this, he blurted out another preposterous thesis: this party (the Left Front) has never interfered with his right to live according to his choice. (Ananda Bazar Patrika, May 14, 2011) This may be true individually in his case but nothing can be a greater travesty of truth than this statement. The people of West Bengal have a different experience.

It is Mamata who has given back to the common people their right to live freely. Drawing-room intellectuals are feeling perturbed over reports of violence in different parts of the State. But nobody heard anything from them when several years back the palms of several Congress supporters of Howrah were cut off from their wrists by goons allegedly backed by the then ruling party. These intellectuals were nowhere to be seen when Lalu Alam, a CPM worker, had tried to smash Mamata’s head during a street demonstration. Credit must go to Mamata Banerjee that she has been able to put a firm leash on the pent-up anger of the common people, particularly in the rural areas. Due to her presence West Bengal has only witnessed a fraction of what could have happened otherwise against the 34-year torture and autocratic oppression by the Left Front.

In the meantime Mamata has raised hopes. She has virtually declared a war on corruption and inefficiency. Departments like health, public distribution and finance, to name a few, bear tell-tale evidence. The State is faced with a staggering financial bankruptcy—the legacy of the Left Front while in power. Mamata should do well by totally ignoring Pranab Mukherjee and deal with the Prime Minister directly to get financial support from the Centre. Pranab’s recent remarks about West Bengal’s appeals for financial help have raised serious questions about his suitability to become the Union Finance Minister.

Tailpiece: Just the other day the editor of a reputed national level daily in Mumbai had called up this correspondent to know about the people’s estimate about Mamata Banerjee and her new government. I had at first thought about redirecting him to Sunil Gangopadhyay or Mrinal Sen but then desisted from it and thought of another dhoti-kurta-clad intellectual who lives in the Alipore area of the city. But the editor refused and told that he does not want to talk to him.

Notice: The print edition of Mainstream Weekly is now discontinued & only an online edition is appearing. No subscriptions are being accepted