Mamata and the art of winning hearts in adverse times
Five years at the helm of West Bengal, some observers would say, has changed Mamata Banerjee a lot.
The firebrand leader who pushed herself against formidable odds without any godfather in politics continued to project herself as plebian heroine, all these five years when she was the chief minister.
But during the last five years people came to know that behind this carefully constructed image of a commoner, lies a leader who bulldozed her doubting colleagues and favoured the erring, but subservient leaders.
But above all, her connect with masses helped her script a massive victory after five years rule, decimating the CPI(M) and its ally Congress.
The ascendency of Mamata as the leader was based on her victimhood made possible by the humiliation and attacks she suffered at the hands of the CPI(M). Though the communists were able to take control of Bengal not only through electoral victories, but through intimidation and street fights, it could not tame the young women leader from Kalighat.
So much so that in 1990, when the Jyoti Basu was in his 13th year of power, CPI(M) cadres attacked her with iron rod, when she was leading a protest march on a hartal day against the killing of three youth in police firing . Mamata was seriously hurt, but even that deadly attack failed to douse the fire which kept Mamata’s combative politics alive, which as later history would prove, enabled her to dethrone the longest serving democratically elected communist government in the world.
When Singur roiled in 2006 against the Left government’s decision to acquire land for Tata’s small car factory, Mamata made it as the final battle against the CPI(M) rule.
An incident that happened during that struggle and how Mamata capitalised on it, and when a similar incident happened during Trinamool rule and how Mamata reacted to it speaks for her transformation from die hard fighter to an insensitive administrator.
During the 2006 Singur agitation two CPI(M) cadres were arrested for the rape and murder of Tapasi Malik, a teenager who was part of the agitation. CPI(M) dismissed it as a fabricated case. But Mamata relentlessly fought for justice and ensured that the incident stayed afresh in public memory. The Trinamool Congress observed Tapasi Malik Divas ostensibly to ensure that the public did not forget it.
Cut to 2012, months after Mamata Banerjee was sworn in as chief minister, a women was raped in Kolkatta’s Park Street. When public outrage followed, Mamata’s refrain was that it was fabricated to malign her government. The statement is very telling on how power has transformed her. From the feisty leader who took on the might of the Left almost single handedly, to a ruler who sees peoples outrage as a plot to topple her government.
Soon after becoming chief minister one of the first decision Mamata took was to remove chapters on Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels from the syllabus in government schools. Though there were criticism that it was an attempt to rewrite history, the chief minister paid no heed to this. Her decision to restrict West Bengal State libraries from subscribing English news papers was also criticised as an attempt to stifle criticism. The arrest of Prof. Ambikesh Mahapatra of Jadavpur University for circulating cartoons on Mamata Banerjee drew nationwide condemnation since it overtly established the fact that her government was intolerant to criticism and was against freedom of expression.
Her approach towards dissent, her inability to return the acquired land to farmers in Singur all pointed either towards her immaturity as a ruler or as the inefficiency of an administrator.
But Mamata survived, ostensibly because the CPI(M) was in total disarray. Despite the Saradha Chit Fund scam, which saw many of her senior party leaders embroiled in cheating and fraud cases, Mamata scripted another spectacular victory in the last Lok Sabha election.
On the eve of the Assembly election came the narada news sting which literally tore apart the claim of Mamata about transparency. Almost all the major leaders of the TMC were caught on camera accepting bundles of cash in return of illegal favours to a fictitious company. Mamata shifted her stand on Narada sting- first terming the videos as being doctored, to ordering an internal inquiry spoke about her inability or inconsistency on the issue of corruption.
Two things might have helped Mamata. The memory of three decade long Left rule might still be lingering in peoples’ mind. And the CPI(M)’s organisational weakness. This along with her ability to connect with rural masses might have helped her overcome the combined challenge posed by the Left- Congress alliance.
Though it may sound shallow now, Mamata’s slogan of ‘maa mati, manush’ might still be resonating with the rural populace in these times of unbridled liberalisation. The poribortan she promised has not happened, even after five years.
In the post victory press conference on Thursday, Mamata has declared that it is ‘poribortan‘ day for West Bengal. Negating all charges of corruption she even said Bengal is largely a corruption free state.
This may be quintessential Mamata. Come what may, she is surging ahead with her style of politics, and people of Bengal seems to be very happy following her.