Monday, November 21, 2011

Bengal's Great Game Changer is Really Just a Name Changer/Power & Politics/November 20, 2011/The Sunday Standard

Power & Politics

Bengal's Great Game Changer is Really Just a Name Changer

To her admirers, Mamata Banerjee is a mission and a message. Her mission: trounce and liquidate the Red Empire that ruled West Bengal for three decades. Her message: restore responsive and participative governance. But after six months, the 56-year-old first-ever woman chief minister of West Bengal hasn’t been able to find a credible mechanism to deliver her message to people so that she can achieve her mission.

Mamata is a known rabble-rouser. Soon after her resounding victory in May, she was conferred a powerful corporate adjective — the Game Changer. But last week, her actions and utterances betrayed all the expectations her underwriters had promised. Instead of being chief ministerial in her posturing and performance, Mamata is still competing with her old rivals to retain the title of the state’s most effective Leader of the Opposition. Her attack on the Congress leadership, including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and her dealings with Maoists who were her former comrades-in-arms reflect her combative attitude.

Mamata has always been known for throwing tantrums and dictating terms. She hasn’t understood, or refuses to understand, the meaning of coalition dharma. She believes that it is her fundamental right to occupy both the Opposition’s and the ruling party’s space. If the Congress refuses to see reason in her unreasonable demands, she takes to the streets and lashes out in an offensive and humiliating manner. Last week, when Pranab invoked genuine constitutional provisions, stating his inability to fulfill her demand for a huge financial package, her response was, “We may not be a pundit like him. He has been in politics longer. He knows a lot and is a great and respected leader. We may be servants, but we will protect the prestige of West Bengal. I can tolerate everything. But not insult to the people of West Bengal. We are not seeking alms from Centre. It is our right. Bengal should be considered as a special case as we are carrying on with a paralysed economy.” Since the Congress party depends on her for survival in Delhi, it suffers her insults. However, when some courageous Youth Congress workers protested against her government’s repressive attitude, she threatened the Congress with serious consequences. On Friday she said, “It’s for the Congress to decide whether to support Trinamool or extend indirect support to the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). It will be sorted out because both cannot go hand in hand. They (Congress) have earlier done the same thing. Trinamool doesn’t want to stay with political parties which have covert relations with CPI-M.” But most surprising was her fallout with the Maoists who provided her the weapon and muscle to keep the Marxists in check during the elections. Not only has she forgotten her promises to resolve contentious issues but has threatened to launch a full-fledged war against them. Now she is accusing them of planning to eliminate her: “I have reports that a joint conspiracy has been hatched to eliminate me.” Mamata has become the second woman chief minister after Mayawati who has received assassination threats.

It is not just the terms of engagement with her ally or with others that has made Mamata’s message West Bengal’s nightmare. Except changing the name of her state, she has hardly done anything that symbolises change in governance—not one portfolio under her has shown any progress in any area. She holds all the politically important portfolios of home, health, public administration, land and land reforms, cultural affairs, education, power, information and administrative reforms.

Listening to others has never been Mamata’s virtue. When she storms into a police station with her power-hungry supporters, the cops don’t know to handle the unprecedented situation in which a ruler herself breaks the law and takes away the accused. Earlier, when she visited one of the badly run government hospitals, she found fault with the doctors and not with what was ailing the hospital. During the past six months she has grabbed every photo-op to be in the headlines for her words instead of her deeds. She has used her clout to get the petroleum price hike, the Teesta river accord with Bangladesh and some provisions of the Land Reforms Bill reversed. But she hasn’t changed the face of her own bureaucracy or empowered her colleagues. Least of all, Mamata hasn’t defined her agenda for change. What is definitely looking better, though, is the exterior of the Writers’ Building with its fresh coat of paint. Inside, the rot is worse than what it was during Marxist rule.

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