Monday, December 22, 2014

The Battle for Bengal .... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/December 21, 2014

The Battle for Bengal will be Between Neo-Marxist CM and Right-wing Leftist PM

The spotlight has always shone on West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. Hers is the Janus face of confrontation, which sees hardly any difference between a ruler and an opponent. Last week, she was in New Delhi to add fuel to the Opposition’s fire against the Modi government. Ostensibly, she came to call on President Pranab Mukherjee, who was recuperating after a minor angioplasty. But she spent the next 40 hours trying to neutralise the most vicious campaign ever unleashed against her and her government by the BJP and Left. As a loner negotiating the labyrinthine world of conspiracy-infested politics, West Bengal’s small and frail-looking first female CM looked distressed. Under attack for her inept handling of terror activities in her state and the involvement of key aides in the Saradha scam, Banerjee chose offence as her best defence. Though all other non-NDA CMs have chosen a wait-and-watch policy on the PM, Didi is the most vocal critic of the style and substance of the seven-month-old Modi-led dispensation.

In West Bengal, the conflict is between Banerjee and the rest. And this twin formation is precisely what she has been aiming for. By forcing the Left to be perceived as a comrade of the saffron party and Congress, she is trying to project herself as the sole victim of a class coalition, whose only objective is to topple a simple, lower middle class woman. For the past three years, she has been lording over West Bengal, which among India’s states is the sixth largest economy with an annual GSDP of over $1.20 billion. Though she is yet to deliver any results credible with her slogan ‘Ma, Mati, Manush’, Banerjee is dependent on political engineering to achieve her objectives. Ironically, she sees her own Marxist model as most effective to retain power. For 35 years, the Left government never accomplished economic reform. When they started flirting with corporates, they lost the elections. Now, Banerjee, in her neo-Marxist version, has charted a mission, which will make both Marxism and leftover Marxists irrelevant. Her propaganda espouses the cause of minorities, labour, farmers and Dalits.

Confident of winning her war solo, Banerjee’s struggle against the Centre has acquired an ideological veneer. Predictably, she has attacked the CBI for defaming and destabilising her government. But her political tone reflects her resolve to decimate the Left in Bengal and convert the political tussle as one between the Sangh Parivar and her. She has been the only genuine rival of the Marxists in her state, after decades. While the state Congress was perceived as B-team of the Marxist government, Didi was ploughing a lonely furrow from her humble abode in Kolkata, where she still spends most of her time. Not only had she dislodged the Left government in 2012, but also crushed the Communists in 2014 by winning a record 33 Lok Sabha seats.

But now, her fresh battle is not against her traditional enemy, the Left, which still controls the second largest chunk of votes in Bengal. The BJP, under its President Amit Shah, is on the prowl and has made terror and bad governance its main artillery to weaken the feisty CM’s besieged citadel. The Marxists are still not in a position to decide which issue they should adopt—terror or the minorities. Banerjee has decided to back the Muslims while letting the investigative agencies do their job of tackling terrorists.

For the past few months, Didi and Trinamool Congress (TMC) have chosen to use violence and muscle power to counter the aggressive posturing of her opponents. For political survival, she is mimicking the tactics used by the Congress and Communists during the early 70s to 2012. For almost three decades, political pogroms were used as the only effective strategy to win an election. The liberals in the state charged the Communist regime of resorting to force to eliminate foes. In an article in the Left-leaning magazine Mainstream, it was noted that “to come to a reliable figure of murders between 1997 and 2009, we have taken the annual average of 2,284 to come to a total figure of 27,408. Thus, between 1977 and 2009, the total number of murders was 28,000+27,408=55,408. It means a yearly average of 1,787, a monthly average of 149 and a daily average of five. In other words, in every four hours and 50 minutes, one person was being killed for political reasons in West Bengal. The CPI(M) can claim credit that instead of a murder an hour, they could limit it to four hour and 50 minutes per murder. What an achievement”.

According to an issue of the Economic and Political Weekly in 1997, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had stated in the Assembly that between 1977 (when they came to power) and 1996, 28,000 political murders were committed. This sotto voce statement does not convey the enormity of CPI(M)’s crimes. It meant on an average, 125.7 murders happened in a month. The daily rate of murder was four, which means one every six hours for 19 years. Could any member of the Opposition feel safe in such a “haven of peace”? Thirty-eight years later, the same question on the safety of the people is being raised by both the CPI(M) and BJP. In private, all parties have realised that only violence can establish political supremacy in West Bengal. The Marxists claim that over 160 CPI(M) and Left Front leaders have been murdered between May 2011 and June 2014. The BJP has gone a step further. Its state president Rahul Sinha has written to the Election Commission that the TMC should be declared a terrorist party.

As the countdown for the 2016 state elections begins, Banerjee has captured the middle space vacated by the Congress. She has also eaten into the minority and labour class base of the Marxists by adopting their own techniques. The BJP’s rise is a bubbling broth of both good and bad news for Banerjee. Since the Modi-Shah team has chosen the state as the next fort to conquer, she expects a major polarisation to happen, which would marginalise the Congress. With 25 per cent minority votes and over 40 per cent BPL families in the state, the little lady habitually clad in a cheap cotton sari projects herself as the only symbol that can stop Modi’s war machine from capturing the east. West Bengal is headed for a conclusive confrontation between the neo-Marxist CM and India’s right-wing Leftist PM.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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