As the state inches towards the Assembly elections, Mamata Banerjee and her politics seem to have become increasingly paranoid and intolerant.
As the elections to the West Bengal Assembly approaches, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s politics come across as increasingly paranoid and intolerant. The state is beset with problems of governance and of law and order, and appears to be increasingly spiralling into a state of uncertainty and confusion. With the Covid count in the state going up and recovery rate dipping, with testing still stagnating and an acute shortage of hospital beds, it is becoming evident that Mamata Banerjee has handled the pandemic in an extremely slipshod manner. Her assertions that she is the best health minister in the country and that West Bengal has the best health infrastructure in India is coming across as churlish and insensitive, especially at a time when people in West Bengal are dying because they have no access to hospital beds or have not been able to get a test done on time.
The case of 18-year-old Shubhrajit Chatterjee, who after having tested positive, died because he could not get timely admission to a hospital, shook the state. Despite being diagnosed with Covid, Shubhrajit and his parents had to run from one hospital to the other pleading for admission. He was admitted to the Calcutta Medical College only after his mother threatened to commit suicide. A juvenile diabetic Shubrajit died within hours of being admitted. His shocking death, once again exposed as hollow Mamata’s repeated claims that she had put a comprehensive health infrastructure in place. In reality, except for painting the hospitals and healthcare buildings with shades of blue and white, little has actually been done in terms of upgrading hospitals in the last nine years that Mamata Banerjee has been in power.
In terms of preparation for handling the Covid challenge, the Mamata administration has again done little to put things in place. When a number of other states were seriously into making preparations to handle the Covid crisis, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself was continuously monitoring the preparedness of the states and the Centre during the lockdown period, Mamata kept politicising the battle against Covid. She spoke of being discriminated against and of being a victim of politics by the Modi government. She was the only Chief Minister to say so; no other Chief Minister had any complaint against the Modi government. Many see in such antics an attempt to divert attention from her own failures. While she is on a vehement denial mode, Mamata’s failures on the healthcare front are becoming clear with every passing day. This has led to a situation of panic among the people of the state. There is no clarity on the protocols to be followed, there is little being done in terms of creating greater sensitisation; and the weekly lockdown that has been clamped down on the state has been done, some aver, keeping Fridays free, so that Mamata continues to be seen as especially sensitive to the needs of the minority community.
This has been compounded with rampant irregularity and corruption indulged in by Trinamool Congress cadres and local strongmen while distributing relief for the victims of the Amphan super-cyclone. Rural West Bengal has been rocked by protests against this brazen attempt to pocket relief meant for those whose huts have been washed away. Even two months after the cyclone, the actual victims are yet to receive relief, while the money has been debited to the accounts of TMC local leaders and their family members. Mamata referred to these pilferages as minor aberrations and made a show of warning her party men against such acts. But that has done little to change the situation on the ground. Mamata herself knows it well. While she keeps playing to the gallery in trying to convince the electorate that she is serious in eradicating corruption from within the ranks of her party, she continues to egg on her regional area managers to continue placating her workers and supporters by giving them the scope for pilfering relief and ration. The lockdown phase was no exception; in fact, it saw a more coordinated and intensified attempt on part of the TMC’s rank and file in trying to make cut money.
Added to this is the Mamata regime’s increasing intolerance towards dissent. Media persons are being hounded, local channels are being silenced, their reporters and anchors are being terrorised into silence, while workers of Opposition parties are being maimed or killed. BJP worker Bapi Ghosh’s killing in Nadia, 16-year-old Mampi Singha’s murder in Uttar Dinajpur, and BJP MLA Debendranath Roy’s murder — Mamata has tried to pass it off as suicide — have sent shockwaves across the state. A shattering blast in an e-rickshaw in Malda, a crucial border district, in the first week of July and no satisfactory answers on it from investigative agencies on the nature of the blast, Mamata’s own enlisting of Maoist sympathiser and a leader in the Junglemahal area, Chatradhar Mahato, who was once an associate of CPI Maoist politburo member Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji have all gone to show that the security situation of the state is fast deteriorating and that Mamata is deliberately creating such a situation. Ironical that being the Home Minister of the state, she is devising a political game, is chalking out a political strategy which will, in the long run, negatively impact the overall security situation in West Bengal. She is not unaware of it, but her political survival seems to depend on generating an atmosphere of fear and of instability.
In the past, when she was in her final struggle against the CPM and the Left Front regime, Mamata had, calculatedly, garnered support of Maoists such as Mahato, so that she could break the foundations of the CPM in the area. Now she has once again enlisted such elements to try and break the increasing hold of the BJP in the region. Mamata was taken aback by the support that the BJP had received from the Junglemahal area during the 2019 elections. People in the area, fed up with being exploited and with promises, had responded to PM Modi’s call. They have been beneficiaries of schemes such as Ujjwala and PMJDY and had perhaps for the first time seen these change their lives for the better. Their overwhelming support had unnerved Mamata and she has now gone on an overdrive to retrieve space. She proposes to do this through coercion and intimidation.
Having realised that she has little to show in terms of concrete achievements vis-à-vis governance in the last nearly a decade, having realised that the obsession with cut money, the propensity to political violence and to lumpenise the political discourse and climate of the state has alienated a large section of the people across the vast hinterland of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, in one of her most crucial political battles, an existential battle for her and her nepotistic party, is now relying on violence, on suppression, on Maoists, urban Naxals, Islamists and a revived communist-cohort to see her through. She has no qualms and no concern for West Bengal.
(The writer is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.)
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