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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 29 New Delhi July 6, 2019

Mamata’s Worry is not BJP, but her Own Party

Sunday 7 July 2019, by Barun Das Gupta

The Lok Sabha elections are over but violence continues unabated in West Bengal. Almost every day some activist of this party or that is murdered. And whether the victim belonged to the Trinamul Congress or the BJP, the party accused of the crime would blame it on the “factional fights” in its opponent. Violence spreads across the State while the two parties are engaged in endless mutual recriminations, with little thought to the common people of the disturbed areas who spend their days and nights in fear and panic. As soon as trouble starts in a locality, the people of the area down their shutters and flee to take shelter in their relations’ or friends’ homes. The BJP keeps on blaming the State Government for the break-down of law and order. Its clamour for immediate imposition of President’s rule in the State rises in a crescendo.

Unfortunately, the kind of mature leadership that was expected from Mamata Banerjee as the Chief Minister and party supremo in these critical times is not forthcoming. The BJP is trying constantly to provoke her and she is allowing herself to be provoked. The BJP supporters are raising the slogan of “Jai Shri Ram” whenever they see the Chief Minister or her motorcade. And an angry Mamata in a combative mood comes out of her car to “confront” them and ask the police to arrest them. Raising the cry of “Jai Shri Ram” is not a crime. Arresting the slogan shouters will be counter-productive as they will do it with greater gusto. Mamata fails to understand this simple truth. If she would have asked her party men to counter-shout “Jai Shri Ram” with double vigour whenever the BJP raises this slogan, things would have become quiet in a day or two. When the BJP men found it was failing to provoke Mamata or her party they would fall silent.

Mamata did not show maturity in dealing with the doctors’ strike either. The main demand of the striking junior doctors was that Mamata personally come to the NRS Hospital (where some junior doctors were beaten up by the relatives and friends of a patient who had died and doctors went on a wildcat strike demanding security for them) and talk to them. Else, they would continue the strike. Mamata should not have made it a prestige issue and promptly visited the hospital when the strike was spreading like wild fire across the State and the entire country.

She should have come to the NRS and assured the doctors that their safety would be fully protected. She did not do that, although she visited the SSKM, the most prestigious government hospital in the State, where she alleged that “outsiders” were behind the strike. This further stoked the striking doctors’ anger. They questioned whether Mamata was not an “outsider” when she led the movement in Singur and Nandigram. She was not a resident of either of the two places. Meanwhile, public healthcare service came to a grinding halt in West Bengal. Several patients, brought in a critical condition, died when they faced closed gates of government hospitals and all their earnest importunities failed to melt the stony hearts of the doctors.

A further embarrassment was in store for Mamata. The doctors’ strike created a division in her own party. The daughter of Firhad Hakim, Kolkata Mayor and a Minister, the sons of MP Kakali Ghosh Dastidar and Minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar and the Chief Minister’s own nephew Abesh Bandyopadhyaya issued public statements supporting the strike. This was practically a revolt against the Chief Minister for her (mis)handling of the strike.

Eventually, good sense prevailed and the Chief Minister came down from the high horse she was mounting. She agreed to meet the doctors and the doctors gave up their insistence that Mamata personally come to the NRS. A meeting was held at the State Secretariat “Nabanna” in a very cordial and conciliatory atmosphere. The junior doctors’ representatives were very polite and restrained in their language, while Mamata, uncharacteristically, gave them a patient hearing for one-and-a-half hours, occasionally intervening to accept the validity of their demand and asking the police and civil administration officials present to take note and take follow-up measures. She talked to doctors affectionately. The meeting ended with the doctors calling off their strike. Some senior doctors, one of whom belongs to the CPI-M, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to break the impasse and bring the two sides to the table. The Chief Minister promised that necessary measures would be taken in three days.

Till recently, Mamata did not seem concerned with the alarming rise in the BJP’s votes. Now she is and has taken a series of corrective measures. The BJP’s rise in West Bengal is reflective of the growing dislike of the people for the TMC leaders and workers for their rampant corruption. It is a pity that these leaders and workers, who had once fought the corruption and coercive rule of the CPI-M, indulged in all the corrupt practices they accused the CPI-M of after they themselves came to power. Unless she purges her party of these elements and curbs the powers of some of her ministerial colleagues, the process of TMC’s alienation from the people will not stop, nor the rise of the BJP.

She is now being accused of double standards. Her critics point out that after coming to power she encouraged large-scale defections from other parties and poached their MLAs and councilors and panchayat members to capture munici-palities and panchayats in which the TMC was a minority. Her critics say that it does not lie in her mouth to accuse the BJP of causing defections from her party. The fact is that many opportunist elements and self-seekers entered the TMC after it came to power. Many of them are now sitting on the fence. They will jump on to the BJP bandwagon as soon as they find it opportune. These elements, who were once welcomed into the party, have no loyalty either to the party or to its leader. They care a tuppence for secularism. They have now become the party’s pain in the neck.

The responsibility of pulling the party out of the morass of corruption and putting it back on the rails devolves squarely on Mamata. If she fails to do it, fails in stopping political violence and improving the law and order situation, it will be extremely difficult for her to come back to power in 2021. The BJP is keenly watching the situation. The day they think the majority of the people have gone against the TMC (which means Mamata), it will strike. The State Government will be dismissed and President’s Rule imposed. Mamata is now facing the biggest ordeal of her political life.

The author 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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