Has Mamata Become a Liability for Bengal?

Mamata Banerjee, Bengal Needs Change

Mamata Banerjee

2011 saw Mamata Banerjee riding to power, vanquishing the Left Front, on the ‘Ma, Mati, Manush’ slogan and promising ‘Poribortan’ or ‘change’, in West Bengal. At the time of her victory, there was real hope for the common man and optimism amongst the ‘Bhadralok’ of Kolkata, that Bengal was finally poised for revival, the kind of which they had been dreaming of for a long time.

Cut to 2014, and the same ‘Bhadralok’ is now cursing their choice, while the common man remains confused for want of a better political alternative. Life continues to be miserable and by all accounts, TMC has been a disaster and its popularity is nosediving fast, real fast, both in rural Bengal, as well as Kolkata.

The middle class of Kolkata that extended its full support for Mamata and what she promised, is now ruing their decision. The problem is that Bengal is still at sea for want of a party that offers a clear political direction and one that can offer dynamic leadership, a leader that can emulate or even surpass Narendra Modi. The BJP is trying to make inroads but lacks the leadership and policy that can offer a better alternative.

The TMC and Mamata had the opportunity and the mandate to revive Bengal in pretty much the same way that Narendra Modi is implementing changes at the Centre; but Mamata has completely missed the bus to revive Bengal politically, economically and socially. Today, Bengal looks confused and rudderless on all three counts.

Political situation

In 2011, the people of West Bengal were clear and emphatic in their rejection of the Left politics and chose the Trinamool Congress over the traditional Indian National Congress, as their party of choice to replace the Left. The CPM tightly held the rural vote bank through a well-established network of militant party cadres that had their presence in all areas of rural Bengal and any resistance to the Left was cut down swiftly and ruthlessly by the cadres, very often with tacit support of the police that had been politically compromised, a long time back.

Through the elections, the people revolted against the oppressive political regime under the Left, only to discover that the same group of local militant political leaders continue to ply their trade, only that they now work for the TMC. Nothing on the ground has changed.

The TMC is as ruthless in crushing any form of dissent as the Left ever was and violence has been unleashed against any political activism from the CPM or INC cadres. It’s ironical that the TMC has used the very same tactics that kept the CPM in power all these years! Either way, the ordinary citizen of Bengal is caught in the political crossfire and is paying the price for his choice.

After Siddharth Shankar Ray in the 70s, the Indian National Congress has failed to throw up any leader of comparable stature or charisma to put up a serious challenge to either the former CPM or the present TMC. The INC has been decimated at the Centre and the party continues to be in the wilderness in West Bengal too.

The same is true of the CPM that has lost its limited appeal amongst the common man in pockets of West Bengal and Kerala and is today struggling to find a relevant ideology in contemporary India.

That leaves the BJP to try and dislodge the TMC but lacks a dynamic leader at the State level and is yet to make any significant ideological inroads with the masses. Whatever little support it is perceived to be receiving in the State is a reaction to TMC’s failure rather than any ideological pull towards the BJP.

Politically, the TMC has pushed itself to the corner with no real support from anywhere. In the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, Mamata Banerjee did harbour hopes of emerging as a kingmaker in a third alternative to the UPA and the NDA but that has all but vanished now. The TMC is now in political isolation having rubbed both the NDA and UPA the wrong way. The result, Bengal continues to remain in a state of political confusion with no real ideological direction in sight.

Social relevance

Bengal has always prided its culture, education and its respect for women, as the cornerstones of progressive Bengali thought. A lot of that was lost under the insipid Left rule that destroyed a progressive Bengal and when Mamata came to power, there was hope for a Bengali renaissance. She was a woman, a firebrand Bengali loyalist and from among the grass roots. She raised hope amongst the women of Bengal that finally we had someone who would introduce progressive social change. That was not to be.

Today’s Bengal has left even the most diehard TMC female supporter disillusioned by Mamata’s lack of action and insular position on every physical attack on women in the State. Cases of rape and molestation have dramatically increased but Mamata has continually dismissed these as political gimmicks by the Opposition to embarrass her Government.

The police have taken cue and have been slow in cases, especially where TMC party workers have been reported to be directly or indirectly involved. The police inaction and non-cooperation in probing the recent Burdwan blast has only added to the party’s loss of credibility amongst Indians, in general.

In fact, Mamata has gone all out to defend her party cadres when she should have been reining them in. The people of Bengal have a long memory and Mamata is fast emerging as her party’s biggest liability.

The urban youth has already deserted her and the ‘Bhadralok’ community is squirming in disgust, every time she has stood by silently against her party cadre’s excesses. The anger is building up but she has yet to show any signs of changing her approach. It is indeed tragic that a State which was known for respecting women and one that has a female as a Chief Minister, is today seen as being very unsafe for women.

Economic disaster

In her obsession to throw out the CPM, Mamata took the lead in going against the Tata Nano project in Singur. While it did pay rich dividends and brought the TMC to power, the result is that Bengal has become a pariah State for investment. The Tatas walked out of Bengal with the car project and Bengal was denied the opportunity of emerging as an automobile hub in the East, pretty much the same way Maruti catalyzed development in Gurgaon and Faridabad.

Mamata thought she was the dynamic leader who would now take charge of transforming Bengal but all her attempts, from the Bengal Leads fiasco in 2013 to her failed junket to Singapore in 2014, have failed to attract any big ticket investment to Bengal. Amit Mitra, who was roped in from FICCI to revive Bengal, has not been able to achieve much and his statement saying Ratan Tata has ‘lost his mind’, hasn’t done him much good either. A good man in a wrong team.

During the shifting out of the Nano project, an arrogant Mamata had publicly declared that the Tatas were free to leave the State and that the State didn’t need them. Therefore, it is indeed ironical and amusing to see a desperate Mamata, along with her party colleagues, re-discover the virtues of the Tatas and once again try and roll out the red carpet to the group, which happens to employ over 30,000 persons in the State. On their part, the Tatas seem to be ready to let bygones be bygones. The rest of India Inc. doesn’t really care, with better investment opportunities available in other States.

Is there any hope for a revival in Bengal?

For a State failing to seize the golden opportunity to raise the bar of political, social and economic development, it is going to be a major challenge. However, the inherent advantages of Bengal as the eastern Gateway of India remain, along with its natural resources and highly educated and trained manpower.

The answer to Bengal’s future lies with the people, who will have to rise up and force change they wish to see or continue to live under the TMC and their make-believe world of ‘Amaar Sonar Bangla’.