‘Enough is Enough’

Bengal Today

Sandip Bandyopadhyay

Politics in West Bengal has, of late, become a messy affair. There is tenable reason to believe that Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister, is personally honest and she is sincerely trying to bring about a change in the economy of the state. But known for her mercurial temperament, she seems to be unpredictable. Her tall claims of success, which she untiringly rattles off, often lack substance. Bibekananda Ray in the 27 April issue of this journal tried to make an objective assessment of the three-year-long Trinamul Congress (TMC) rule in West Bengal. He pointed to certain positive signs which may be true but are too superficial to hold out much hope.

Moreover, the Chief Minister’s ubiquitous voice on every occasion seems to be baffling. One has the impression that her word is the only word and the last word on Bengal politics. This is certainly not desirable in terms of democracy. In fact, Mamata Banerjee’s disposition has provided a shot in the arms of her critics. As for example, she could have proved with statistics that crimes against women have not suddenly shot up after she assumed office in 2011. They have been steadily on the rise for at least the last two decades. But she didn’t go in that direction. She just rubbished the complaints and earned the ire of a section of civil society.

It is too well known that the TMC came to power by massive popular mandate at a very critical juncture in the politics of West Bengal. ‘Enough is enough’ was the popular reaction to the oppressive Leftist regime that had continued for more than three decades. A large number of people who did not like the TMC at all, reposed faith in Mamata Banerjee as an individual and voted her party to power. This is unprecedented in the scenario of Bengal politics.

What is more striking is that the rise of Mamata Banerjee as an icon, instantly, reduced the left to almost insignificance. It is indeed incredible that the leftists, who held sway over West Bengal for such a long time, turned almost irrelevant after the assembly elections of 2011. ‘There is no rule of law in the state’, the former Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee sometimes cries out. But nobody pays heed to his exclamation. On the other hand, Biman Bose, the Left Front Chairman has made a laughing stock of himself and nobody takes him seriously. The other leftist leaders simply do not merit consideration.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been able to make its presence felt in the Bengal context in the wake of the Lok Sabha elections this year. Its influence is said to be rapidly expanding in the state. But it is too early to jump to the conclusion that the BJP has considerably denied the dominance of the TMC, or more precisely Mamata Banerjee. The equation is not so simple. The BJP has rather weakened the left.

There is no denying that Mamata Banerjee emerged as a phenomenon in Bengal politics and threw the Left out almost single handedly. Of course, she received huge public support to make her mark. In public perception, she continues to stand out as a charismatic figure who has proved herself daring enough to challenge and finally overthrow the entrenched Leftist rule in West Bengal. Those who do not like her politics, do not believe in her words can hardly deny her historic role. It is true that she consistently makes tall claims, holds out promises that do not materialise, but at the same time she has been able to create an impression that she means business. This impression may not be totally unfounded.

Fed up with the canards of the Leftists, angry with the audacious body-language of the left leaders, people in West Bengal seem to have learnt to bear with the histrionics of the present Chief Minister. They may find it difficult to come to terms with her; but many of them cherish the belief that she will set an example with a different type of government. The dwindling leftist intellectuals fret and fume because they just cannot tolerate the overwhelming popularity of Mamata Banerjee.

Another notable feature of this confused state in West Bengal is that along with the Left Front government, leftist culture which occupied a place of pride in post-1947 Bengal is also rapidly waning. Cultural groups are now intelligent enough to realise that they won’t be able to exist without the support or patronage of the ruling power. The leftist intellectuals are also in a dilemma over how to deal with the TMC which does not care for a proclaimed ideology. Hence there is no enemy to fight an ideological battle with.

The destructive impact of globalisation is a global phenomenon and West Bengal alone cannot be held responsible for it. The TMC chief has rather scored a point by retaining her opposition to FDI. The rise of the BJP to power at the Centre could have provided an issue; but there also Mamata Banerjee has taken the wind out of the left’s sails by vehemently standing against the BJP politics. However, there are tangible local issues pertaining to education, health service and human rights. But on that count also, the leftists find themselves in an awkward position. None of the maladies is a product of the TMC rule. And with their brazen track-record on those issues, whatever they say is bound to return to them as egg on their faces. People may justifiably dislike certain steps of the TMC government; but they do not share the Left’s concern and are reluctant to attach importance to the worn-out phrases mouthed by the leftists.

Bengal politics, today, is verily in a pitiable state. While the TMC pooh-poohs its critics and boasts of its success, the leftists engage in a quixotic exercise only to prove that they are still alive. One may argue that in Bengal, leftists do not mean only the CPI(M) and other members of the Left Front. It is true. But in public perception the voice of the SUCI(C) or the Liberation group of the Naxalities is too feeble to reckon with.

By the ‘Left’, people usually mean the CPI(M). When they express their indignation at the vulgar statements of some upstart TMC leaders, they do not forget that the Leftists were not better elements. Who can deny that it is the CPI(M) which introduced vulgarity into political vocabulary and spread terror and hooliganism in the name of political action? In the rural areas particularly, people still shudder to recall those horrible experiences. There is no denying that in 1969-71 the terror of Naxalite politics broke all past records. But the long experience of terror indulged in by the official Leftists has left a deeper impact on public psyche.

What is pathetic is that the worst victim of this messy situation is the leftist mood or revolting spirit that had characterised Bengal politics since the early years of the last century. For the young generation, Bepinchandra Pal, the extremist Congress leader, was a hero; and later Subhashchandra Bose proved far more popular than Gandhi. The Communists exploited this mood successfully after independence. This politics made the Congress rule miserable. The Congress is hardly a factor in today’s Bengal politics. But who is a Leftist anyway?

Amazing as it may seem, despite her frequent inadvertent remarks, Mamata Banerjee’s oratory sometimes smacks of leftism. Taking the official leftists for a ride, she seems to be emerging as a revolting personality in a different (Green or Blue) garb. Confusion has thus come full cycle.

Vol. 47, No.11-14, Sep 21 - Oct 18 2014