Bengal Today

The September 20th Moment

Anirban Biswas

September 28. the city of Kolkata witnessed a massive students' demonstration that caused quite a stir throughout Bengal. The demonstration, organized against the police atrocity on the agitating students of Jadavpur University, appeared like an uprising. According to the leading Bengali daily, which is also the largest circulating daily in India, about 50 thousand persons joined the-procession. More conservative estimates put the figure at 25-30 thousands. In any case, it was a mammoth gathering, the like of which was not witnessed since the infamous Nandigram episode of November 2007.

The police came at the request of the acting Vice Chancellor and beat up the students, who were on a sit-in demonstration against the alleged molestation of a girl student and were demanding an impartial probe. The Vice Chancellor later defended himself by saying that his life was endangered, although he was, as per all credible evidence, safely seated in his chamber, where the agitating students could by no means enter. The Police Commissioner of Kolkata defended police action with the statement that outsiders had assembled with lethal weapons, although the police, who arrested and injured many, did not seize any such weapon, ostensibly because they did not find any. One should feel sorry for the Police Commissioner whose lies got readily exposed, and who himself was exposed as a liar.

The Trinamul Congress student and youth leaders, reportedly ordered by Mamata Banerjee, organized a counter-demonstration two days later, but as things turned out, it was much smaller compared with the earlier one, and many of the participants did not know why they had come. Many had come because the local TMC chieftains asked them to do so. The demonstration of 20 September, spontaneously joined by a considerable number of people from other walks of life., was a pointer that the TMC-led Government of West Bengal is not as invincible as it seemed two years ago. The failure of the TMC-sponsored demonstration served to reinforce this notion.

The TMC-led government that was installed in the wake of the movements in Singur and Nandigram against corporate-led growth and acquisition of farmland has by its deeds already shown that it does not at all wish to understand the language of democracy. The students' movement which took the character of an uprising, has proved that the forces of democracy have begun to reassert themselves against the wishes of the ruling party.

The sequence of revelations about the Saradah scam and Mamata Banerjee's speeches and actions-her brazen defence of her MP Kunal Ghosh, now in judicial custody, immediately after the collapse of the Saradah kingdom is one point—have convinced all but the naive that she was all along aware of the operations of the Saradah group; the very fact that all the state libraries of West Bengal were made to subscribe to the newspapers owned by the Saradah group a few months after the TMC came to power is one example of the Saradah-TMC alliance. These newspapers, along with Saradah-owned TV channels, lauded Marnata Banerjee to the skies, and it is a legitimate surmise that Mamata Banerjee dreamt of becoming an all-India figure with the help of the Saradah media. It is also amply clear that she used the administration in order to shield the real culprits of the scam, and there is substance in the allegation that the SIT employed by her tried as much as possible to destroy the evidence that she thought might go against her. One can recall that during the Singur agitation, the death of a girl named Tapasi Malik was probed by the CBI—it was Mamata Banerjee who first demanded a CBI probe—and in the upshot, a local leader of the CPI(M) and his assistant were sentenced to life imprisonment. There- after they received bail from the Kolkata High Court. Hence Mamata Banerjee 's frantic opposition to a CBI probe into the Saradah scam—her government reportedly spent more than 100 million rupees from the public exchequer for this purpose—is not explicable except in terms of her desire to retain the task of investigation in her hands, i.e. to destroy all the evidence that would implicate her and her close party colleagues. The allegations about accumulation of huge amounts of wealth by her kinsmen have also raised doubts about her personal honesty. In 2011 even those who were vehemently critical of Mamata Banerjee’s way of thinking and agitating did not question her personal probity. But at present there is no dearth of people who consider her a dubious person who, after actively collaborating with the cheats, is now squandering public money, not Saradah money or TMC money, in order to compensate the victims and is thus trying to cover up her own sins. The latest revelation, backed by credible evidence, that Sudipto Sen, the Saradah chief, gave Rs 1250 millions to the TMC on the eve of the 2011 polls, has surprised many. But considering the huge amount of money spent by the TMC on the election campaign in 2011, this should be no surprise at all. The Saradah scam is, however, not the only example of the corrupt practices of the ruling party. The shameful drama regarding the appointment of teachers, known as the TET scandal, and the then education minister's buffoonery, which further exposed the misdeeds of the ruling party, is fresh in the memory of many.

Mamata Banerjee's opposition to Special Economic Zones and Foreign Direct Investment in retail trade had helped create a progressive image of her. But that opposition was at best half-hearted and at worst fraudulent. This is amply demonstrated by her visit to Singapore in order to bring corporate capital from there. It should be emphasized that effective opposition to neo-liberalism requires an alternative vision of economic development and sincerity in implementing this alternative. But Mamata Banerjee has no such vision and her party, which is already infected with corruption from top to bottom, can hardly be expected to have such a vision and the desire to implement it.

Mamata Banerjee once told the press that she raised money for her party by writing books and selling paintings. After the burst of the Saradah bubble, which has so far caused more than ninety suicides, it was widely reported in the press that she got more than Rs 18 millions from Sudipto Sen as the 'price' of one of her paintings. "Neither Mamata Banerjee nor any of her colleagues have so far contradicted this report. En passant, it may be mentioned that a few months ago, two well-known painters publicly praised Mamata Banerjee's painting ability. They should have also declared publicly how-much money a painting of them would fetch. One of these two painters is a TMC-nominated member of the Raiva Sabha and the other got Rs 50 millions from the Saradah group as the 'price' of a news channel which, however, never saw the light of the day.

Those who have watched the recent parliamentary battle in central and south Bengal have seen how in many places, the elections were rigged with the help of a spineless administration and the 'active passivity' of the Election Commission. One may wonder how such a force of rigging could be formed. The answer to this question is two fold. First of all, many of the local mastans who were earlier used by the CPI(M) during the period of polls, have joined the TMC, considering it a better option. Secondly, a large group of TMC loyalists was formed by making lavish donations to clubs in the name of 'promotion of sports'. There are no guidelines attached to such grants about how the money should be spent. Hence the matter is clear, the money was meant to create an army of TMC loyalists, who would use the money in whatever way they liked and would vork for the ruling party in the polls. The money granted to clubs was Rs 156.2 millions in January 1012,400.09 millions in January 2013 and 641.5 millions in September 2013. This year's proposed amount is about Rs 1239.5 millions, and it is a legitimate inference that this enhancement has been made with a view to controlling the civic polls in Kolkata. The armed muscle power notwithstanding, the fragility of the TMC has been exposed by many events. Intra-syndicate strifes-these syndicates were meant for supplying building materials- have already cost quite a few lives. In the district of Birbhum, two block level TMC leaders, who headed two rival factions, have been killed. The dispute, as far as it is known, was over the share of spoils from the widespread illegal coal business. In the same district, some TMC councilors of the municipality of the district town sat on a sit-in demonstration against the chairman, who belonged to the same party. Instances of such intra-party rivalry can be multiplied.

On the eve of the last parliamentary poll, a curious happening was witnessed. Narendra Modi at first told at a rally in Kolkata that both laddus (coveted pieces of sweets) should be there—his laddu in Delhi and Mamataji's laddu in Kolkata. This was an overture to Mamata Banerjee. But a few days later, the equation changed, and Modi and Mamata went on attacking each other. The CPI(M), the champion of secularism, remained silent about Modi and his Hindutva, ostensibly in the hope that the BJP would eat into the vote share of the TMC. But this tactic boomeranged and in many places Muslims, afraid of the BJP and Narendra Modi, voted for the TMC in large numbers, thinking that Mamata Banerjee would be able to protect them from any possible onslaught from the forces of Hindutva. A large number of erstwhile voters of the CPI(M) and the Left Front, on the other hand, voted for the BJP in the hope that this party, not the CPI(M), would act as an effective antidote to the tyranny of the TMC.

This trend continues. In the recent by-elections in two assembly constituencies, the TMC has won one and the BJP the other. In both cases, the Muslims voted massively for the TMC. One reason is that this community is suffering from a fear psychosis and their local religious leaders, who were granted allowances by the TMC government, asked them to stand by the TMC. Granting allowances to Imams, however, does not indicate any general uplift of the Muslim community. It does not ensure development of this backward community in terms of education and jobs. Yet it is this very backwardness that makes them prone, at least partly, to be influenced by Imams. Those who voted for the BJP were not necessarily in favour of its agenda of Hindwva. They were against the misrule of the TMC and found in the BJP a force capable of countering the former. It is curious that the CPI(M) has forfeited its deposits in both the seats. This only indicates its declining hold on the electorate, and it is clear that unless it changes its orientation, its policy of wooing corporate capital was hardly distinguishable from that of Narendra Modi, there is no hope of its regaining its former strength. That requires a change in approach and a more broad-based outlook for building up mass movements. The far left also suffers from this sectarianism, which is an obstacle to mass movements. Some of them have a broad outlook, but they are incredibly small in number. To revert to the Jadavpur episode again, the latest news is that the governor has appointed the acting Vice Chancellor as the permanent Vice Chancellor while there were other candidates who are reportedly significantly ahead of this fellow in respect of qualifications. This attitude of complaisance of the governor to the TMC-led government is likely to complicate the matter further, because the majority of the teachers of the university were in favour of the resignation of this disgraced person. What has so far been said in this short piece applies in general to central Bengal. In north Bengal and the Jangalmahal region, the picture is somewhat different, which demands a separate analysis. This may be attempted in a later contribution.

Vol. 47, No. 17, Nov 2 - 8, 2014