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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 31, July 20, 2013

Media’s Anti-Mamata Campaign

Sunday 21 July 2013, by Barun Das Gupta

Within a few months of her coming to power in 2011, a section of the media—print as well as electronic—started a campaign against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, trying to belittle whatever she was doing and show her in a bad light. Mamata’s temperament made their task easy. She is easily provoked. Her responses are quite often knee-jerk, her comments brusque and off-the-cuff. This lands her frequently in avoidable controversy like her dismissing last year’s incident of a rape in Park Street as a ‘got-up’ case. Soon enough, the Kolkata Police established that the woman had, indeed, been raped. She could have easily avoided this embarrassment by telling the press that the police were conducting an inquiry and they would come out with the result after completion of the inquiry. She did not because that is what she is temperamentally.

But the media chose to blow up her inadvertent comments and brusque manners while totally ignoring or blacking out whatever good work she and her government were doing. The corporate-owned and corporate-run media embarked on the war path against her because, unlike the previous CPI-M Government, Mamata would not give any special treatment to prospective investors, nor spread out the red carpet for them, nor compromise with her industrial policy to accommodate the demands of the industrialists. Some local newspapers joined this chorus because of purely selfish reasons. They also could not have their way with Mamata in certain matters.

The fact is that in the past two years the Mamata Government has made some positive achievements too, despite the severe financial constraints it is working under. The Times of India reported on July 3: ‘Despite being criticised for not being able to lure much investment for the State, the Mamata Banerjee Government can boast of this statistics. An Assocham study reveals that Kolkata has registered a 19 per cent growth in new job generation in the first quarter of the fiscal at a time when most of the metro cities have witnessed a decline.’ The report went on to add: ‘Even Kolkata’s share in the total number of new jobs generated across India has increased marginally to over five per cent in April-June, 2013, from over four per cent in the year-ago period.’

This report was ignored by the local media. Nor did the bevy of intellectuals that adorn the TV studios every evening to discuss current affairs ever mention this fact. The faces of these intellecltuals have now become familiar to the televiewers as they see them day after day pouring out their daily quota of scorn and contempt for Mamata. Some of these intellectuals have deluded themselves into believing (and making some others also believe) that it was they, the intellectuals, who brought Mamata to power. Note, for instance, Arun Srivastava’s comment in the June 28 issue of this journal: ‘In the process she is fast losing friends who had earlier backed her to the hilt and aided her in dislodging the erstwhile Left Front Government in the State. What an irony for the intellectuals of Bengal! They who brought her to power have today become her enemy!’ (Italics mine—B.D.G.)

But the plain fact is that the microscopic segment of the population known as intellectuals did not bring Mamata to power. It is the people, especially the rural people that suffered silently and helplessly during the three-and-a-half decades of CPI-M rule, that brought her to power because they found in her the fearless fighter who could not be cowed down by threats or even by physical violence and who could challenge the CPI-M and defeat it in its strongest bastion. Some of the intellectuals who supported the Left Front Government then chose to cross sides and turn into supporters of Mamata as soon as power changed hands. Some of these gentlemen have again become critical of Mamata. At the right time they may again change sides and join the camp they think is the winning one.

The media and the intellectuals it is turning its floodlights on never take note of the positive achievements of the Mamata Government. The opening of fair price medicine shops in the government hospitals across the State has immensely benefited not only the poor and the middle class but even the upper middle class people. The service in the government hospitals has improved though much still remains to be done. In the villages, farm labourers are getting 32 days of work under the NREGS. During the CPI-M regime the average was 18 days only.

It has had a direct and immediate effect: the immigration of rural people to the towns in search of jobs has slowed down. A good chunk of the Central assistance coming under this scheme used to be siphoned off in the name of ghost beneficiaries. In the tribal-inhabited Jungle Mahal area, over half a million people are getting rice at Rs 2 per kg. Mamata has raised the income-eligibility ceiling for the beneficiaries from Rs 24,000 to Rs 42,000 per annum.

Without imposing fresh tax burdens, the State Government has been able to increase its revenue by streamlining the tax-collection machinery and introducing e-driven fiscal reform. In his Budget speech this year, Finance Minister Amit Mitra stated that revenue collection had gone up from Rs 58,755,04 crores in 2011-12 (the last year of the Left Front Government) to Rs 72,054.22 crores in 2012-13 and is expected to reach Rs. 84,403.28 crores in the current (2013-14) year. This is no mean achievement given the fact that there has been no industrial regeneration in the State.

The media does not highlight these positive sides but carries on a politically-motivated one-sided propaganda campagin against Mamata and her government. But people who are feeling the pariborton (change) in their everyday life know better. They will not be swayed by the inspired propaganda.

Wherever there is a case of rape or molestation or murder or robbery, TV crews land there in no time and give extensive coverage. If workers of the ruling Trinamool Congress are involved in any of these incidents then the reportage is invariably followed first by teams of intellectuals visiting the spot and then by days of ‘discussions’ in the TV channels suggesting that the law and order situation in West Bengal had never been as bad as now.

What these worthies conveniently forget is that during CPI-M regime neither the media nor the intellectuals could have access to the places of occurrence. The CPI-M goons would cordon off the area and prevent anybody from entering. This has changed now. This is the pariborton that has come in West Bengal. To give an example, eminent social activist Medha Patkar got a taste of this when on several occasions on her way to Nandigram she found her path barred by CPI-M activists who wanted her to go back. On one occasion, a war of nerves followed and she had to spend the entire night in the car she was travelling in. Things took a far more obscene turn once when on instructions of CPI-M veteran Benoy Konar the party’s women workers literally bared themselves below the waist and turned their backside to Medha. On another occasion Medha was pulled by the hair and physically assaulted by the CPI-M lumpens. The vocal intellectuals of today found it prudent to keep their precious mouths shut then.

The people of West Bengal, especially the rural people, have not forgotten those dark days. They know the pariborton that has taken place. They will give their verdict on the Mamata Government and its performance this very month through the panchayat polls.

The reviewer was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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