Is West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seeing the gloomiest phase of her administrative career? The popular leader, who toppled a strong Left regime that had ruled the state for the last 34 years, has been drawing flak from several quarters over a series of incidents ranging from rapes, accusing people as extremists, police firing at villagers, arrest for social network post and endless infant deaths in hospital.
Beside the social disappointment, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief has also been at the receiving end politically after she snapped ties with the Congress-led central government. Her own party leaders are gradually turning cynical about its functioning. The CM is in charge of an economically bankrupt state and investors are showing little interest to reach out to Bengal despite the 'change' that it had witnessed on May last year.
But Mamata Banerjee is not ready to confess to her shortcomings. She is intolerant of anybody questioning her ways of working and has hit back at the opposition, media and even ordinary citizens for criticism. But things really look serious when the chairman of the Press Council of India, Markandey Katju, who was earlier a big supporter of Banerjee, starts questioning her credibility as a leader.
Markandey Katju has rightly warned Mamata Banerjee
Katju, a former Supreme Court judge, became critical of Mamata Banerjee in April when a university professor from Kolkata was arrested for circulating a cartoon lampooning the TMC chief and another senior leader of her party, Mukul Roy. In a letter that Katju wrote to the Bengal CM through e-mail, he advised the latter to tender apologies to those people whom she had targetted for raising 'uncomfortable' questions. Apart from Prof Ambikesh Mahapatra, Mamata Banerjee had sternly dealt with a farmer in Belpahari, Siladitya Choudhari, when he had asked her about her plans for the farmers' uplift, besides insulting a student named Tanya Bharadwaj at a public forum for asking her simple questions. Mamata had called Bharadwaj as a 'Maoist'.
The former judge also asked her to apologise to Damayanti Sen, the upright police officer, who was transferred after expressing a view contradictory to the CM's version over a rape case. Katju asked Mamata to drop cases levelled against Mahapatra and Choudhari and suspend the police officers who carried out their arrest. He cited the recent example from Maharashtra where arrest of two girls for objecting the shutdown of Mumbai after the death of Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray resulted in the suspension of police officers involved in the arrest. The PCI chairman also advised Banerjee to restore Sen.
Katju said Banerjee's ministers and bureaucrats are afraid to speak their minds for the chief minister's whimsical behaviour keeps them under pressure. He said it is not a healthy sign for the administration and warned the chief minister that the latter won't be able to continue in her office for long unless she softened her stand and became more tolerant in her approach. Katju also mentioned about Kautilya's advice that a ruler becomes successful only when he/she appoints good advisers and lends an ear to their advice. He also cited the example of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India's first home minister, who was in favour of allowing bureaucrats to express their minds freely.
Katju's views on Mamata Banerjee are significant for he is not a representative of any political camp with a vested interest. Moreover, the reputed judge was once a big admirer of Banerjee as a politician. He had praised the TMC supremo for leading a simple life free from corruption and taking a genuine interest in people's interest. Katju himself is known as a man of high integrity and he never minces a word in calling a spade a spade. Transparency and fairness have been his thrust throughout and when such a person warns a popular leader not to get distracted and diverted from the path of democracy, the message is very objective and clear: Adjust yourself at this hour if you want to survive.
Mamata Banerjee should read between the lines in Katju's message and not throw the letter into the bin, ignoring it as just another regular criticism from her other critics like the CPI(M) or the Congress or those members of the civil society in Bengal who have a leftist bent of mind. The vanishing transparency and sense of justice from Mamata Banerjee's administrative framework is what that makes Katju air a caution.
Katju is genuinely worried and his criticism is objective
Katju's statements, "We are all human beings and we all make mistakes, but a gentleman is one who realises his mistake and apologises... I can assure you that if you do so you will go up in the esteem of the people of West Bengal, and indeed the whole country" and "I am your well wisher, and would like you to do well, and in fact, if you remember, I had praised you at one time. But of late you seem to have become increasingly intolerant and whimsical, which is only going to land you in big trouble", say that the man is not dismissive of Banerjee but is deeply worried of her mode of functioning.
But power-monger politicians don't bother
The way the administration has succumbed under the pressure of a whimsical and intolerant leader in a 'changed' Bengal is indeed shocking. Katju had said a few months ago that it is the duty of the executing forces to oppose illegal and wrong orders that are being imposed on them from above. He cited the example of the Nuremburg trials where the International Tribunal had given such a verdict.
In India, we have established an entire opposite culture. The culture of muscle-flexing by political units to intimidate liberal-minded individuals who like to ask objective questions is the order of the day here. The power-monger politicians, who feel insecure because of their inability to solve real problems on the ground, flay critics and like to hear 'yes' always. The cynicism soon turns into a big threat for those who trust and bring their leaders to make their lives better. But only the faces and the colour of the banner changes, not the rules of the game.
People like Katju have made an objective criticism to open the eyes of a popular leader, but will the latter, blinded by a huge mandate will oblige?
Mamata Banerjee on Thursday hit back at her critics saying: "raja chale bazaar, kutta bhouke hazaar" (the king walks unperturbed as dogs bark). That's the language of corrupting power and a mindset that is incorrigible.