An ordinary farmer paid dearly after he asked West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to look after the farmers' plight in the state. Banerjee, who was addressing a rally at Belpahari in West Midnapore on Wednesday, became furious when the 40-year-old man, Shiladitya Chowdhury, raised the question and asked her to deliver on her promises. The CM termed Chowdhury as a Maoist and got him booked. The police initially let him go on Wednesday but arrested him on Friday night for allegedly disrupting the chief minister's meeting.
It may be recalled that the leader had stormed out of a talk show after some university students put some 'uncomfortable questions' before her. The furious CM had called a girl Maoist then as well. Before that, there was another fiasco when a university professor was arrested for allegedly forwarding a political cartoon lampooning the CM through mail.
This is a dangerous trend unfolding in Bengal. The former Left Front government had effected a form of social engineering during its long stint in power and the space for individual freedom in the Bengali society was reduced to the maximum possible extent to make way for party politics. A semi-totalitarian politics had gradually engulfed the entire society and it soon turned into a monolithic block. The Left had manipulated root-level political institutes skillfully and backed it with rural reforms and the twin process ensured a tremendous loyalty for the leadership.
The bhadralok charisma of Jyoti Basu to a big extent and Buddhadeb Bhattcharjee to a smaller extent helped the party's cause to gain confidence among the urban middle-class, although that factor gradually waned in the post-industrial fiasco years in the state. The violence in Nandigram in 2007 saw the monolithic block of the Left developing cracks for the first time and ever since, the Bengali society got polarised between a declining Left and a strengthening reactionary party. Mamata Banerjee, who till the Singur and Nandigram debacles, was nowhere in sight in terms of electoral success, suddenly emerged as an ultra-powerful leader and found an ally in the reactionary section.
Elated over a new nationalism, but...
But that was purely the intricacy of party gains and losses in electoral politics. The question of good governance was never addressed by either the declining or the aspiring party and the result is very much visible today. The leadership that took over Bengal in May 2011 has only succeeded in nurturing, what experts say, a new nationalism.
This nationalism looks to embrace legacy of poets Tagore and Nazrul Islam, seeks support from an upstart class of rich people in the state, eyes to create a circle of culturally-elite supporters, rejects a party-style functioning like the CPI(M) and asserts the rights of the state vis-a-vis the Centre irrespective of a weak economy.
...forgot the real responsibility?
The Trinamool leadership, while busy upholding the abovementioned aspects of the new nationalism, has totally forgotten what good governance actually means. The maverick leader in Mamata Banerjee is so assertive today that she does not tolerate any questioning in any form. This is a total violation of democratic ethics.
The aspect of populism is also questionable here. Propelled just by nationalist fervour and not economic strength, Banerjee's politics of brisk mobility is a calculated option to keep the people distracted from the actual problems. The leader, who is the only face of her party, will not entertain any realistic questions or efforts to focus on practical issues, fearing it can damage her popular base. We have seen how she unleashes the state machinery to nail any individual asking the credibility of her government. And, as we all know, unorganised individuals can not withstand the fury of an organised state power. This is an irony for in the name of Manush (people), Mamata Banerjee is actually crushing popular concern.
Wooing the minorities in the name of secularism is another dangerous ploy of Banerjee. By deifying Nazrul or allowing stipends for imams, she is actually inviting disaster. These limited actions will never earn a total loyalty from the section she is eyeing and will only create a division.
The Bengal BJP leadership, according to a recent report published in the Anandabazar Patrika, said it was feeling encouraged because in many places, the minorities are joining the saffron party after feeling dejected by the state government's populist measures aimed at the lower sections. The Trinamool's lack of a good party machinery to impose inner party discipline and the increasing victimisation of the Left supporters in the hands of their retaliating counterparts in the ruling party can help the non-existent third parties to gain some ground in Bengal.
In Bengal, there is hardly a good governance today. A whimsical leader, with no agenda of development or vision to rebuild a crumbling economy, is just calling the shots by riding the waves of a newly-found nationalism. A semi-totalitarain model of party rule of 34 years has been replaced by a benevolent authoritarianism but the tragedy is that both models end up crushing individual liberty. And that's what precisely happening in a 'transformed' Bengal.