Monday, April 23, 2012

West Bengal's Didi deserves a chance

I have never been an ardent admirer of Mamta Banerjee. But I have respected her for her simple life. She is not corrupt unlike most from the political culture she belonged to. She is not good for administration, and had never done an honest day’s job on any position in the Union Cabinet. Like her counterpart in BJP, Uma Bharti, she is a professional agitator, good only while in the Opposition. She has not been a principled politician either, for that matter because her view is that end justify her means whether working against industrialisation of West Bengal or being in collusion with the Maoists and Naxalites in bringing down the Left-front Government or undermining the political base of her ally, Congress. Didi has enough political savvy and has learnt enough of vote bank politics offering loaves and fishes of office as alleged by her own party’s MP Kabir Suman. She has no qualms about recalling her senior colleague Dinesh Trivedi who in his recent Railway budget thought of economics more than populist politics. Look at this report on Didi’s largesse to the Muslim community in West Bengal: At a gathering of heads of mosques at Netaji Indoor Stadium earlier this month, Mamata Banerjee casually announced a monthly honorarium of Rs 2,500 to about 30,000 Imams of the state. She also promised to provide them with flats in the urban areas and land and financial help in the districts. Can Congress or the CPM complain? This is when similar policies by the earlier rulers had brought the State into an enormous debt trap of 2 lakh crore rupees, interest payment on which alone drains the State to the tune of Rs.22000 crore per annum. Interestingly she is arm-twisting the Manmohan Singh government to announce a debt relief for West Bengal with a deadline of just two weeks.

Now Mamta Banerjee is at the receiving end of lot of criticism for the arrest of a Professor lampooning her in a cartoon, and also for ordering that certain English language newspapers need not be distributed in schools and libraries in the State. This for many politicians on the Opposition and in the UPA which stays in power on account of her support too, is “draconian” and “undemocratic” action. Some cultural leaders also have jumped in the protest band wagon.

Nobody remembers that West Bengal Left-front government’s one minister in charge of culture had taken cudgels against Usha Uthup for singing and dancing vulgarly in hotels and restaurants in Kolkata. CPM had withdrawn a Tagore Primary text book ‘SAHAJPATH’ in 1977. Alexander Sokurov's film Taurus which was the first Russian movie in which reverence demanded by the creators of Lenin's personality cult was abandoned for the first time, was not allowed to be screened in Kolkata Film Festival. Lenin is shown in this film as a broken figure, crazed, rambling and unable to recognise even the distinctively sinister figure of Josef Stalin. CPM is a Stalinist party and its leaders who cry hoarse now against Did’s lack of democratic values openly said that such movies cannot be screened and should not have been made, in the first place! This was the party that sweetly welcomed Mira Nair to film her controversial ‘Water’ there when locals and the UP government objected to filming it in Varanasi ghats. As to the great lovers of “freedom of expression” in Congress Party, the less said about them the better with the party’s inglorious history of the nefarious Emergency which had not only the freedom of press and freedom of expression suspended, but even the fundamental rights of Indian citizens denied. Even the ever-smiling Rajiv Gandhi tried to curtail the press freedom because of the newspapers exposing the corruption involved in his government’s many deals besides the infamous Bofors one.

Congress Party and it’s government at the Centre had even secured a quasi-judicial report from two serving Supreme Court judges that averred that anything said or written about the leader who headed administration would destabilise the government! So one doesn’t have to look elsewhere to learn from where did Mamta Banerjee imbibed the theory that anything said/written/drawn depicting the Chief Minister of a State in a bad light, is treason and should be suppressed using the power of the State.

Now, about Didi’s arrogance: tell me, which Bengali politician in power is/was devoid of arrogance. Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had their party’s “we own the truth” attitude written large on their faces as they spoke even in front of television cameras. While Buddadeb used to smile at times, Jyothi Basu did not ever. Pranab Kumar Mukherjee makes a weak attempt to be pleasant sometimes but generally snaps rudely at interviewers unless they are the “yours faithfully” type or pose that way during the interviews. A friend of mine working in the BARC used to say that Bengali Scientists there were the most arrogant people, and their rivals were the most conceited lot, Malayali scientists; and heads of departments belonging to these two groups were generally not on speaking terms with each other! I remember our legendary English Professor PS Venkateswaran telling us how as students he and his friends went to meet visiting Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore who didn’t utter a word to them and just scowled at them as if they were intruders into his bedroom. The sanctified atmosphere of Pondicherry Aurabindo Ashram is sukkied by the thuggish behaviour of the Bengalis who run it. I wonder whether this arrogance is a mark of Bengali intellectuals and other VIPs. Mamta Banerjee is no intellectual and if one goes by an angry outburst of her illustrious predecessor in office, Comrade Jyoti Basu, she cannot even boast of any great education. I have never seen Mamta Banerjee in person, but in her pictures appearing on TV as well as the print media she has this mousy, unsmiling look oozing crudity if not arrogance. I do not understand Bengali, and I only hope she speaks well in her mother tongue because her Hindi is pathetic and English atrocious or banal.

I also think Didi has reasons to believe that her detractors in the Opposition as well as the UPA are busy hatching conspiracies to bring her into disrepute by creating untoward incidents in the State. Everybody except the parties belonging to the Left-front acknowledge that she has an immense task on hand to get the State out of the mess created by 34 years of continuous rule by CPM-led governments. This needs a lot of time and political niceties are likely to be of least interest to her as she comes across more and more problems in administration each passing day. The sporadic violence, cases rape and the like are perhaps rightly engineered by the erstwhile rulers who have in place the machinery for such activities in ever sphere of life in the State. The West Bengal CM had told a Press Conference in Writer’s Building that there was a deliberate attempt, a conspiracy, to spread communal disharmony in the state. She was referring to a picture of model Poonam Pandey which was earlier published in an English daily being morphed to hurt religious sentiments. Protestors had blocked roads in several parts of Kolkata and crippled the city. She claimed that the alleged gang-rape of a woman on a train in Angalgram near Katwa in Bardhaman District was just a fake story to tarnish the image of her government. The woman was a CPM cadre’s wife and medical tests proved the incident false. Take the case of the latest: one Anjan Bhattacharya, a close aide of former WB Left-front minister Gatam Deb, books a room in a government-run Circuit House in East Midnapore District, impersonating Mamta Banerjee’s brother Karthick Banerjee for a free stay. He was armed with a fake photo-ID card showing his name as Karthick Banerjee, a hooter-fitted car, etc. After a sumptuous meal he had the temerity to call the sub-divisional officer Sunit Gupta to request his stay in the Guest-house to be kept confidential. Something about the guy’s behaviour raised the officer’s suspicion and he verified the identity of this brother of the CM. Karthick Banerjee, fortunately was in Kolkata at the time and game was exposed, bringing police and judiciary into action. This is precisely what Marxists have done always, whether in West Bengal, Kerala or at the national level. They would cook up stories, create incidents and get the media perpetually looking for controversies to deplore the victims of their nefarious plots to politically exploit the negative publicity at will.

I feel Mamta Banerjee should be given a chance to run the administration of West Bengal for the full term of this assembly before tearing her image into pieces for her various insignificant acts of commission and omission. This lady will not swallow public funds. She will not erect her statues all over the State too. Even if her administration is not great, you are likely to see less corruption in West Bengal during her tenure. So the State could develop on its own, in spite of her, if not because of her! If Ambikesh Mohapatra, the Jadvpur University chemistry professor was detained by police and later released on bail for posting derogatory cartoons of Didi on social networking websites, let the law of the land take care of it. If he has indeed crossed the limits prescribed by Section 4 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, he has to pay for the infringement whether the Civil Society, Bengali as well as Indian, supports him for that.

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