31 March, 2012

Didi – take a bow?

Didi – take a bow?
Uddipan Mukherjee

While evaluating the role of Mahatma Gandhi in Indian History, Subhas Bose asserts: “The role which a man plays in history depends partly on his physical and mental equipment, and partly on the environment and the needs of times in which he is born.”

However, Mamata Banerjee could not be – at least, as of yet – compared to the Father of the Nation. Nevertheless, at the same time, it won’t be impertinent to assess her role in Indian politics till date – more so after her ascension to the position of Chief Minister of West Bengal on 20th May 2011. Ten months – highly eventful – have elapsed since then. The climax was reached when Didi’s own man Dinesh Trivedi came out with a Railway Budget which though made a giant out of a political midget but had a number of extra-parliamentary ramifications; viz.

1.   It was unequivocally clear that coalition politics had reached its troublesome peak.
2.   Policy making at the National level has become a diminutive affair, if not a complete nonsense.
3.   Contradictions within the Trinamool Congress (TC) are out in the open but we also need to read between the lines.
4.   Nobody bothers to talk about the credibility of the UPA-II government; no, not any more.

The Trivedi Affair

The latest from TC supremo, at the time of weaving this piece was: “TC will quit UPA-II if it is humiliated”, Ms Banerjee told CNN-IBN, but further affirmed that the party does not want to topple the government. While defending her decision to sack Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi, she said that he had kept the party in dark on the fare hike and it was her right to name the Railway Minister and the Congress could not interfere.

Yes, Didi, you are right because you hardly could be wrong. But doesn’t this whole Trivedi Affair tarnish the image of your own party? Even if we agree that he kept you in dark regarding the price hikes, which Mr Trivedi acknowledged publicly, does it not mean that you have people in your own party over whom your control does not work? Is Trivedi a saboteur? And if that is the case indeed as far as Trivedi is concerned, why not cancel the primary party membership of Trivedi? Didi, so many questions remain unanswered.
Why are you diffident to dislodge the dissident MP Kabir Suman when he openly subscribes to the Maoists and maligns the credibility of your party? Do these acts reflect your largesse? Or are these simply a sign of an immature and confused politician who fails to manage the state of affairs? Both the interpretations would be hard to digest unless we are nincompoops – which the Aam Aadmi – themanush whom you have vowed to serve – are not; simply put, not.
This author interacted with the Manush of Bengal; oops, Paschimbanga, after the railway Budget 2012-13 was unveiled and TC supremo’s dictates from Kalighat in Kolkata were unleashed. Apart from coming across normal assessments of the budget of whether price was justified or not with people taking sides on a normal basis, a comment from a middle-aged academic in Kolkata was worth noting. The professor said:
“The decision of Ms. Banerjee after the budget is farcical. The hike
would take place - if not wholly, but partially at least. Mr Trivedi would once
again be reinforced in TC after few months with a new portfolio. Well
the history of TC points to that and it would happen. It is just to
gain the political sympathy of 70 per cent or more of not ‘too rich’ Aam Admi it has been fabricated. All the hullabaloo will only increase and improve
the TRP of TC.”

Didi, are you listening? Is the professor’s assessment true? Or is it a mere rambling? Let us all forget about the degradation of Paschimbanga’s image in the national fora, at least after a long long time, the Bengalees are having something to cheer about in the Great Indian Political Drama. And Ms Banerjee was unrelenting, as she said: “We would roll back the hike in lower class fares”.
You are absolutely correct and we applaud. However, what about Trivedi? If he has been ‘coerced’ to quit, he should be further ‘forced’ to leave the party. After all, how can you provide shelter to saboteurs? Didi, whole India is looking towards you for justice.
At the other end, Dinesh Trivedi is obdurate and defends his policy of increasing the fares. He is supposed to have consulted the ‘common man’ before formulating the revolutionary budget, and not his party supremo! So, what does all this drama indicate? Still, hard to decipher in exactitude. Nonetheless, a couple of options emerge for us.
1.   The Railway Budget could have been engineered by the Congress – in order to facilitate their own policy decisions to hike prices
2.   The Railway Budget, in the Trivedi-format, would have proved to be a boon for the Congress party as it would shut up the Maa, Maati and Manush slogan of the TC.
3.           But who carried out the masterstroke would probably be palpable with time. Presently, you and I can merely speculate.

 The Other Affairs
Since inception to office, Ms Banerjee is in news. It is no wonder that she should have been the darling of the media – at least in West Bengal – for historic as well as ‘other’ reasons. And she has paid back to the media by nominating three editors for Rajya Sabha membership. Eulogy pays and the ‘other’ editors now realize it fully. She was also religiously and linguistically secular by picking up editors of a Hindi daily, an Urdu daily and a Bengali news channel respectively, along with Mukul Roy- Banerjee’s trusted lieutenant.
 Rajya Sabha and the Gorkhas
Bengal’s Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee announced the names of Union Minister of State Mukul Roy and journalists Kunal Ghosh, Mohammed Nadim-ul-Haq and Vivek Gupta as TC’s candidates for the Upper House of Parliament.
Ghosh is the associate editor of Bengali daily 'Sangbad Pratidin', Haq is the  Executive Editor of the Urdu daily 'Akhbar-E-Mashriq' and Gupta is the director of Hindi daily 'Sanmarg'.
"Mukul Roy, Nadim-ul-Haq and Kunal Ghosh are the first three candidates. Gupta is the fourth candidate. Roy has been re-nominated," Chatterjee told reporters.
Through such a decision, Didi might have planned to win the propaganda war. However, in the process she has jeopardized her camaraderie with the Gorkhas. On 18th March, Bimal Gurung said: "The Trinamool Congress Government is walking on the paths of the earlier Left Front Government. They have conspired to damage our party. Time and again we have accorded her warm welcome to the Hills. Prior to her, no Chief Minister had ever received such welcome. Yet she has failed to reciprocate. During the signing of the GTA agreement and during her recent visit to Darjeeling, she stated that she will not allow Bengal to be divided; yet we remained silent. But now she has broken the 45 year old tradition of fielding a Rajya Sabha MP from Darjeeling. We vehemently oppose this."
 The College Principals
First it was the Raiganj College on 5th January 2012. Thereafter it was followed by two other attacks on Principals of colleges. Interestingly, TC was linked to two of the three incidents. Bobby Hakim, a TC minister commented rather rudely: “Respect cannot be demanded. Respect has to be earned. And the principals have to behave.” Stupendous. It was apt for a goonda-raaj Minister.
And to add to the emotional woes of the Principals, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused the Marxists of appointing "political recruits" to key posts across the state during their rule. Well, this might be true to a large extent. But was it apt for a Chief Minister to pass such comments in the wake of political violence? Didi, are we living in a lawless state? Is this not systematized form of ‘systemic anarchy’? Didi, are you listening?
To quote media reports: "The comrades (CPI-M) have appointed these political principals. What will the new government do? Are we going to worship them? I don't want the principals to be beaten up. But whoever is involved in corrupt practices, they will have to face investigation," said Banerjee.
Didi, shouldn’t we be a little more merciful towards the hapless academics? We agree, that they might as well have been handpicked by the ‘comrades’; but will such rhetoric not send wrong waves among the student community? We will again be pushed to Mao’s Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution where professors and teachers were rebuked and beaten up in public to ‘teach them lessons’.
Didi, will you open the outlet of your merciful reservoir only on Trivedi, Mukul Roy and Kabir Suman? What about us? If the present Principals are political recruits, then will you guarantee us that from now on, all academic posts shall be filled up without political interference?
NCTC and Teesta
"The NCTC is worse than TADA and POTA", said Banerjee after meeting the Prime Minister on 19th March. She also defended her party's walk out in the Lok Sabha on the NCTC. “The Trinamool Congress is part of the Government. It cannot vote against and therefore it has maintained decorum by walking out.”
The pressured Prime Minister in fact said in the Lok Sabha on the same day that the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) would be formed only after adequate consultations with state governments. Let us see in what direction this drama proceeds.
However, till now, Mamata-di had been most belligerent vis-à-vis her senior partner in UPA-II in the case of Teesta water sharing issue with Bangladesh. Manmohan Singh had to work extremely hard, although in a futile manner, to save India’s diplomatic face in front of our trusted ally – the Sheikh Hasina government.  
Interestingly, the same Banerjee who made Dr Singh a humble being in front of the Bangladeshis during his trip to Dhaka told Dipu Moni, the Bangladesh foreign minister:
"The people of Bangladesh want Teesta water. It is their long-standing demand. We appreciate their demand. We will be glad if water can be shared," Banerjee told newsmen at the secretariat in the presence of Moni in mid-November 2011.

Banerjee went on record: "We will definitely do what we can. We love Bangladesh. We will have to see that Bengal does not face water shortage and Bangladesh also gets water. We will have to see what can be done about this. Therefore we have sought expert opinion. After we get their report we will give our view."

Banerjee’s stance in this matter has made her a villain not only in the national fora but also in the international domain; especially for the Bangladeshis. For instance, barrister Harun Ur Rashid from Bangladesh writes: “The survival of Manmohan Singh’s 20-party coalition government depends on the support of 19 MPs from the Trinimool Congress. Therefore, New Delhi cannot afford to politically annoy Ms. Banerjee.”
Rashid further asserts: “Coalition governments everywhere suffer conflicting pressures from different party components, and the Teesta water-sharing appears to have become a victim of political maneuvering between New Delhi and Kolkata. Interestingly, records tell us that Bangladesh could not sign any water agreement either with the Congress or BJP-led government in New Delhi.”
So, what is the upshot of the above chain of factoids? Is Didi totally Bengal-centric? If that is the case, then why is she trying to expand her base in Manipur? In fact, TC has bagged 7 out of 60 seats in the 2012 Assembly elections. A commendable performance indeed! But to expand her base in other states, she might need help of the Congress. Even in Bengal, she would need the partnership of the Congress to keep the Marxists at bay. So, why is Didi creating chasm between TC and the Congress? Will she cling to BJP when time shall be ripe?
Is Banerjee a die-hard believer in Federalism? Or does her behaviour bespeak an erratic, mismanaged, autocratic and seamlessly aimless leader of errant cadres? Time will surely tell.
Can we conclude?
A facebook comment posted on the author’s wall in the aftermath of the Trivedi affair is worth mentioning:
“Budget apart, Didigiri is holding the whole country to ransom! With just 19 seats in the Lok Sabha she is virtually ruling the country!
The whole country is virtually at the mercy of her whims! What a terrible outcome for democracy - the spineless Congress is playing to her tune shamelessly to avoid a fresh mandate but those nincompoops are not realising or avoiding to realise that nothing will change between now and 2014. So by resigning they can avoid the daily humiliation from Didigiri at least! She is openly blackmailing the government, enacting daily childish pranks, behaving in a cantankerous way not befitting a Chief Minister….....and enjoying as 'mastans' do while bullying weak people!!”
However, Banerjee might not, still, deserve such a scathing rebuke. Another chance can as well be bestowed upon her.
The electorates of West Bengal hardly had any choice - after witnessing the Left misrule, ill-governance, party cadres' vanity; they could only elect Trinamool Congress – the only viable political alternative in Parliamentary Democracy. Furthermore, it is undoubtedly a fact that Ms Banerjee's honesty was never in doubt. In addition to that, she was extremely resilient and full of energy.
We need to give her some time before we could judge her comprehensively. By all means, 2 to 3 years have to be granted to her. Her treasury is bankrupt. Moreover, at the present juncture, it seems that she is losing control on her rowdy cadres; and at times, even some leaders.
This author had essayed a Cover Story for Uday India on 16th April 2011, a month before the Assembly election results were declared in West Bengal – in which he wrote: “If Bengal has to grow holistically, then it needs a ‘fresh’ regime with a strong, vocal and learned opposition.”
Eleven months down, the author does not feel ‘out’. Rather he still fervently believes that the ‘change’ in West Bengal was necessary. And it might be pre-mature to predict the Fall of the ‘Reich’ so soon. But with a maverick Chief Minister and her ruffian elements, Bengal is definitely witnessing a historical phase in its politics. And alongwith Bengal, the rest of India too.
In fact, this author had admonished in the said piece:
 “Banerjee’s TMC will have its task cut out if it emerges victorious. A debt-ridden beleaguered exchequer, the Maoist-menace, the aspirations of a number of neo-TMC cadres and above all, the hopes of over 80 million denizens of Bengal could turn out to be extremely onerous.”
The warning has not gone in vain.