Iron Heels

Why Mamata Banerjee Will Win...

Rana Bose

She got rid of 34 years of arrogant rule, that bypassed any semblance of participatory democracy and that which indulged in rape, murder, police vigilantism and cover ups, galore. People on the ground can never forget this. They were seeking an alternative and a consolidated movement against CPM misrule and she provided that."

"She counters the bhadralok upper middle class leadership of the CPM with a lower middle class street-fighter logic, that goes down well with a large majority of the population that has migrated to the towns from the rural areas, that live in slums and more importantly women in rural areas who seek better control over their lives. It meets their gut instincts. "

Leftist intellectuals, with frustration ringing high in their voices, have this to say-- "What else is there to do-with what the CPM did? There is no alternative at the ground level. She is terrible. She sees Maoists everywhere. But there is a vacuum and she fills it well. Populist rhetoric against big companies, against Delhi and for the common person-this is such trickery! She speaks in blunt, accusatory, angry tones. This is what the people seem to like. But there is a price that is being paid already. Everywhere fascist outlook is taking over. What to do?"

Mamata Banerjee herself says the following. "The rapes are got-up cases, hatched by the Communists and Maoists. Anybody who sides with them will be transferred. Cartoons against me are an attempt to kill me. " (According to one of her Ministers, Soumen Mahapatra, "Rs 2 million was distributed by Opposition Parties to hire rapists and embarrass the Mamata government.")

She suggests that the upper English speaking class is her class enemy. The poor are her brothers and sisters. She has been for the "aam admi" long before Kejriwal made a fetish out of it.

On the other hand in Mumbai, while chitchatting with the leading industrialists of India, she said, "The work culture is good now and we do not support strikes. We have brought down man days lost from 78 lakh per year to zero."

She is matter of fact, blunt, makes disjointed statements with great anger and then smiles condescendingly, like "don't you get it?" lf she is not angry or smiling, she is racing down corridors, mimicking some busy marching goblin --as a demonstration of a work culture heroine. Her slippers slap the historic floors of Writers' Building while her entourage scurries around behind her. This is actually very appealing to a growing segment of Bengal's population. The slap-slap get-the-job-done style, as opposed to the "lazy, idling, work-when-you-want pace, that the CPM perfected." The people of Bengal that follow her around like "mastani" behaviour. They like retribution and they like revenge more than they like fairness and equity, these days. They prefer perceptions more than ideological leanings. They like dadas and didis to take care of their demands and their needs and fix situations that bother them personally. She fits that bill. She has "kobjowed" it with great style. They do not care for political consciousness or an analysis of who really stands for what class interest. In fact, being anti-political and regional is very acceptable in Bengal, today. How did this come about?

What class interests does she represent?

Mamata Banerjee and the TMC do not organize the working poor in the cities, through unions or even NGO groups or in the slums, for better living conditions and against the big bosses, big companies and their goons. Trade Union work did not bring them to power like it did for Lula or Chavez. The modus operandi is for the councilors, the MLAs, the Ministers and the local toughs to extract funds from the bankrupt exchequer and local business folks and distribute them for popular projects (could be tube wells, club houses, local infrastructure contracts or puja pandals-whatever the locals fancy as a priority) and as well, line their own pockets, whenever possible. She does not follow any program based on a class analysis of a neighborhood or sector. Appearances are important for her. That is why she went about painting the city in blue and white stripes. She simply takes up the cudgels on behalf of whatever is a local, popular and visible grievance. She does not constitute herself as a voice for the organized working class. She does not see the working class as a class. The producers of value, of tangible products are of no consequence. When this writer recently spoke to a very successful entrepreneur, on the other side of the Hooghly, he said "the TMC union is disgustingly mercenary—no logic, no rational discourse—just partisan local goondaism and collaboration with the police to create problems. At least you can talk to the CPM unions and even in their worst period, they remained somewhat rational and attempted to be fair."

Nothing for the Peasantry or the Adivasis either.

Mamata Banerjee and the TMC do not organize the poor in the villages, except to forcefully and violently displace their opposition and mobilize for panchayat elections. They have no program to mobilize Adivasis for their land rights. There is no program to fight against the harassment of women in villages and towns. She had duped some notable intellectuals into believing that she was for the common person, the "man of the soil and the mother" as she put it. However in some areas the TMC have made some penetration in terms of developing public amenities-schools, hospitals, clinics, water resources and sanitation. Once again they organize on behalf of local issues and doling out local favors, as did the CPM, to win votes, at one time. And if Junglemahal is any indication, the TMC's goons have free reign over much of the region. Using the "law and order" logic, they have used the Joint Forces to displace their opposition or very simply have made them helpless spectators. The Maoist experiment to provide tacit support to the TMC, prior to the elections in 2011 is a classic example of a failed attempt at frontism, from a position of weakness. The first thing the TMC did was to wipe out their local leadership, dismantle over 20 health clinics that the PCAPA had set up and several other educational and social welfare outfits that the Maoists had organized. There is still no doubt that in certain areas of Junglemahal the works of the Maoists are still praised.

Mamata Banerjee wants funds which she can distribute in projects which will create service oriented work for the visibly under-employed sectors of the economy-the young and partially educated- and as well bring basic amenities to the poor in selected high profile areas. That is her intent. Jobs for the young and the middle class. She works somewhat in tandem with Mr Chidambaram to urbanize India, rapidly. The big bourgeois and the small trader holding hands as long as they can. While from a cultural point of view, Mr Chidambaram is perhaps more tuned in to the attributes of international capital, Mamata Banerjee is culturally comfortable with a trading class. Therefore it is not surprising that some of her organizers are invariably the kind that organize embarrassing all night drunken parties (with party funds) where the police have to be sent in to break it up, under orders from the Party bosses themselves. Morality is espoused-- but immoral hoods dominate at the grassroots level. Does that sound like an un-liberated underdeveloped brownshirt cultural colony-dancing in the shadows of a neo-liberalist mainstream hegemony?

Mamata Banerjee has not decided what type of Capital the TMC must attract to Bengal and what type of industry they must set up. Foreign Capital? Direct Investment? Joint ventures?She sends out mixed messages. She declares that the Information Sector and Tourism are her major targets. She wants local farmers' produce to be sold in modern subsidized markets. She talks about "small industries." There has never been any indication in her rhetoric that Bengal should have a large manufacturing sector, for the automotive, heavy industry or consumer goods industry. There has been no discussion if Bengal should set up a manufacturing base for the power, steel, construction, refinery and piping industry. She wants better airports, better roads, better housing, landmark business services islands and tourist enclaves. Who is she catering to? Who is she trying to attract? She claims she does not want to follow the formula of eviction, displacement and rapid industrialization that the CPM attempted. The CPM kowtowed with big industrialists. Mamata Banerjee pretends she is for the small entrepreneur.

Mamata Banerjee's advisors do not sit in the US and UK in Management Colleges and Universities (like that of the BJP, Congress and the CPM) and promote a neo-liberal, post globalization, market-based industrialized economy or rapid indiscriminate industrialization with a welfarist tint. Mamata Banerjee actually wants Indian capital to do its job. Mamata Banerjee wants to make sure that the lower to mid-range middle class Bengali, whose population is increasing by leaps and bounds, is kept satisfied and enabled to become mall-rats and consumption-craving wannabees. It does drive the economy to a certain extent. It makes cash and votes flow. That much she understands.

According to the 2011 census, West Bengal has a population of 91,347,736 people. Roughly 63% of Bengal is rurally resident. More than 50% of India's current population is below the age of 25. One can say that the same must be true of Bengal. So nearly 45 million people in Bengal are below 25. Thus they were born after BC Roy and Prafulla Sen and United Front, PL480, Vietnam, Nasser-Bandung-Tito and non-alignment, Ben Bella and Fanon, Amilcar Cabral and SamoraMachel, the so called Green revolution, Naxalbari, Archana Guha, Barasat massacre, Baranagore-Cossipore, Ranjit Gupta, Siddharta Ray, Marichjhapi. Their terms of reference are Sharukh, Sourav, Singur, Nandigram and perhaps Nonadanga.

What the CPIM was able to achieve through their steady penetration of the state apparatus through their electoral, governmental, police apparatus and bureaucratic placements, was to create nearly three decades of non-class-conscious political stasis—a paralyzing immobility—a complete estrangement from the inevitability of class conflict-and the creation of a self-satisfied, selfish, arrogant, sovereign republic full of itself, unproductive, inefficient-physically and mentally-and on top of that a xenophobic/populist aversion for "others." In the pre-internet days, it spawned a population of provincialists. Today, the folks born in the eighties do not have the background history, adequately, and yet have access to a neo-liberalist view of the world. So, after neutering the political consciousness of the youth, the CPM handed them over in a platter to the TMC.

If there was a direct physical foreign imperialist presence in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee would probably have thrived as an aspirant to uphold the flag of the nationalist bourgeoisie. But unfortunately, in India, the nationalist bourgeoisie have no clout, no standing, no say and no presence in Trade Councils and Chambers of Commerce. These institutions are run by parrot-like creatures who repeat the same tired cliches from a failed exercise in globalization initiated during the Reagan-Thatcher era. They still repeat the "free trade, SEZ, GDP growth" mantra endlessly. So, what she would like to see is to get the big bourgeoisie of India, who are direct representatives of International Capital and actually are so well integrated with International capital-- that they are them, when it comes to India- to be occasionally nice to her province and her people. Just like that! She would like them to be nice to her boys and girls, to her non-performing band of ministers -be it Madan Mitra,, Partha Chatterji or Amit Mitra. Ambanis and Godrejs are amused and will of course go along for a while. And she will pat herself on the back, as well for a while. But to see through all this, for the common masses, requires a new political consciousness.

The CPM came to power and consolidated it, by movements like Operation Barga. While the success of such movements is controversial, it installed the CPM in the rural areas- note that nearly 23% of Bengal's peasantry is Dalit (one of the highest in India) and 25% is Muslim or both. With their literacy levels at an abysmal level, they had already been ripped off by nearly twenty years of Congress rule in Bengal since 1947. The CPM was able to mobilize this population quite successfully at least to register as aspirants for sharecropping or rental farming, if not as land inheritors.

It paid off for the CPM with the creation of an efficient rural machinery, an electoral machine that could contest elections at three levels - panchayat, provincial and national - with great confidence and cockiness. An elaborate practice of brokering the needs of their electorate- a client relationship, not based on any class analysis- was perfect in doling out rewards, party membership, land in return for votes. This entire exercise filtered up, as a meritocracy, all the way to Alimuddin Street in Calcutta where the CPM's headquarters is located.

The problem in Bengal is not Mamata but a retreating Bengali political consciousness.

Bengal was the hotbed of anti-colonial struggles, during the British period. It was also the capital of the East India Company, in terms of Industry, machine building, steel, shipyards, automotive, textiles, foundries and also the main port for shipment of looted goods to Europe and elsewhere. As well, Bengal was the launch pad for the diabolical British effort, using mainly Parsee traders, to ship Opium to China. It brought in enormous revenue to Bengal. It was a boom time in some respects (in spite of the War and the resultant Famines) and also provided a clear "line in the sand" for political consciousness. The imperial grand plan was visible and their domestic dalals were obvious. You had to choose sides. You were with "them" or with "us." (!) It also automatically provided the basis for militant trade unionism, because the same Marwari business interests (GD Birla, Dalmia, Mundhra) that had sided with Gandhi (by nature, an anti-socialist) in his machinations against Subhash Bose, commanded the Bengal economy and continued their political affiliation, of course, with anti-worker activities and assisted the Congress in post-partition Bengal. There was also a peculiar divide in Bengali society in terms of land relations, which gave birth to significant peasant struggles-more than 75% of Bengal residing in the rural interiors. The Muslim League, in undivided Bengal-a party of Zamindars-and the Congress-a party of jotedars and traders got virtually knocked off the map after the partition in terms of political mobilization capability-and had no basis for a social following. All leading intellectuals, except for a few, sympathized with the Left and the successes of the Soviet Union and China, as was perceptible at that time. There was no stopping the B C Roy / Atulya Ghosh type of collaboration between Nehru acolytes and Calcutta-urban thug politicians. They were fundamentally enamoured with the growing advent of US interests on Indian soil. Their intellectual leanings were blatantly servile to foreign interests, while in comparison, the CPI stood a dignified ground-Bhupesh Gupta, Hiren Mukherjee, Indrajit Gupta and even Jyoti Basu and a host of others commanded respect as intellectuals who came from a worldwise tradition. All this allowed the CPI (otherwise non-impactful in the freedom movement) to build a socially conscious following that ranged from dreams of a middle class romanticist egalitarian Utopia to genuine socialist aspirations. The Bengali consciousness had decided somewhat between a cooperative welfare society or a dog-eat dog predatory society. The former was definitely in the ascendance. Then came Vietnam-and it was clear whose side one must be on, as a nation. It was not going to be the US and its apologists.

With the 34 years of The CPM rule the mass political consciousness of Bengal has been destroyed.

According to Deutsche Research the estimates are that there are nearly 300 million people that comprise the Indian Middle Class. According to standards set by the Asian Development Bank, as well, a quarter of India's 1.2 billion people can be defined as "middle class". They are all in the top third, by wealth, of Indian society, but in absolute numbers they are about as big as the entire American population. At 25 percent of the population, India's middle class is small - when compared to 63 percent in China, 50 percent in Bhutan and 40 percent in Pakistan. Going by proportionality, out of the 91 million population of Bengal, some 22 million are middle class. Their political edge has been blunted; their aspirations for a just society have been cynically manipulated-their familiarity with the past has been destroyed and the political consciousness for fundamental social change has been converted into a craving for a neo-liberal dreamland. The CPM vasectomized the politically conscious Bengali and the TMC is running wild with this neutered segment of Bengali society.

Without a new "rebel" consciousness, without a new exposure to the fundamentals of world politics, history and social development, the people of Bengal-especially the large middle class-are going to vote for Mamata Banerjee for a long period of time. The painstaking work that was done in the 50s to elevate consciousness in science, secular traditions, rational discourse, health care and disaster relief, access to proper nutrition, world affairs, knowledge about human rights and fighting colonialism, the questioning approach to mainstream media hyperbole- will all have to be revived-sector by sector.

In the meantime Mamata Banerjee will exploit victimhood, decline of "the nation state", engage in "anti-bourgeois" antics, while glibly seeking their support. Her foot soldiers will be the disenchanted, less informed middle classes-and that is exactly what happened in the past when fascism came out in full force in Italy, Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Vol. 46, No. 10, Sep 15 - 21, 2013

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