It's another jolt for the Trinamool chief within a week. This time it is back in her state of West Bengal where she took a body blow after the Calcutta High Court invalidated her government's Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, which was enacted to reclaim land given to the Tatas and give it back to unwilling farmers.
The latest development clearly raises question marks about Mamata's style of governance, if there is any, at all. The Singur Act was the first and a major legislation of a non-Left government in over three decades but it fell flat. The government lawyers were quick to take the responsibility but that is no face-saver for Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the government. Trinamool leaders were hopeful that the Supreme Court might give a more favourable ruling. Many farmers supporting Mamata Banerjee at Singur, which has played a decisive role in Bengal's history on many counts, said they could not forget Mamata's 'sacrifices' on Singur. The opposition, CPI(M) and the Tata Motors were understandably elated by the ruling.
Singur and Nandigram had catapulted the Trinamool to the corridors of power in the state, no doubt. But the episodes, which had put the state politics in great turmoil in the 2006-08 period, did not bring any change of fortune for Bengal, a state which has been struggling financially. It was the previous left Front government which was mainly responsible for the Singur fiasco by adopting an erroneous 'so-called pro-industrialisation policy'. Mamata, in those days, was a fierce opposition who chose to disrupt anything the weakening Left planned to do and Singur was no exception.
Suicidal opposition to pathetic governance
The fact that the former Buddhadeb Banerjee government lacked acumen in political management and credible leadership was woefully exposed by the Trinamool's aggressive opposition. In August 2008, this writer had a harrowing experience while passing through Singur on the way to Birbhum district for the opposition had blocked the Durgapur Expressway, a key roadway that links Kolkata with other important centres of the country. The blockade (Banerjee had put up a roadside protest venue in Singur) went on for several days, inflicting heavy losses to the state exchequer. Several people could not attend important work, patients faced great inconvenience to reach hospitals. The state's economy and popular interest were held to ransom for the state's welfare! Singur was just one blunder followed by another.
No Left, Mamata Right
This has been the problem with Bengal politics. We had in Buddhadeb a leader who never let go his elitist mantle and understand the ground reality. A nano car factory was just a dream of a left liberal whom many had dubbed as the Gorbachev of Bengal but there was never a groundwork to make the dream come true. And on the other hand, we have Mamata, a maverick leader who seems to have little understanding of the elite class and its way of looking at things.
Yet in the tussle between the two, Mamata emerged winner for Buddhadeb, just like Gorbachev, was not history's favourite. Mamata, was the only alternative, particularly for the rural electorate, for by 2011, all the good work done by the Left since 1977 for them had been exhausted. A desperate Left had resorted to naked atrocities in rural parts towards its end days, something which invariably elevated Mamata's stature. We must remember that till the 2006 elections, Mamata's Trinamool was electorally a no force in Bengal, and was drubbed in both the 2001 and 2006 state polls it had contested after its birth. 2011 saw the same Trinamool sweeping the polls riding an astounding anti-incumbency wave.
The wave also influenced the urban middle-class, although it wasn't as strong as was the case with the lower rungs of the society. And within just over a year, the high and middle classes already started getting disillusioned with the first woman Chief Minister of the state and her way of leadership. There has been a series of debacles, small or big and each time, the English-speaking middle-class has treated the Mamata government responsible for the wrongdoings. Brain drain is rampant and yet the new government has not been able to clarify its stand on issues like SEZ or industrialisation as a whole. Her objection to issues like FDI, Lokpal and pension bills, too, do not earn her much friends among the middle-class.
Great respect among the rural electorate
The latest legal debacle on Singur reasserts the proposition that Mamata Banerjee has a very little understanding of the realistic issues apart from a one-dimensional philanthropic ideology, which helps a large section of the rural electorate remain loyal to her. Womenfolk, particularly of the rural and semi-rural region, is a strong vote-bank of Mamata and keeping them in good taste is not a difficult task for her party's limited machinery. She even tries her heart out to keep the minorities in good humour.
The rural supporters of the Trinamool chief are also not bothered much about her way of doing things and consider her a dynamic leader. For them, a woman who singlehandedly (this is a great advantage for Mamata) demolished the mighty Left Front bastion (key factors notwithstanding, like for instance, the steady decline in the Left's well-oiled machinery following the death of Anil Biswas) can not be wrong and the low-profile image that she carries with ease just raises her stature all the more.
All her candidates who had won in the 2011 elections just romped home riding the Mamata symbol accompanied by the anti-Left sentiments of course. Or otherwise, a Kolkata-based actor defeating a heavyweight Left candidate in a remote place like Raidighi near the Sunderbans is something which would not occur normally.
Easy ploy but poor acumen
The Trinamool now would implement an easy ploy to preserve its support among the rural electorate. After the goof-up on the presidential poll and the CPI(M)'s decision to support Pranab Mukherjee, the UPA candidate, the party would convince its supporters by forwarding the logic that the Congress and the CPI(M) were trying to malign its respected leader. It would be followed by a statement that "the Centre is not helping us financially". May be the ploy has already been implemented, for the recent by-polls have gone in favour of the Trinamool.
Such brand of politics resembles the great Lalu Prasad Yadav of Bihar, who had preserved his great mass appeal for a considerable period in the state politics even if that had cost Bihar dearly. But even then, Lalu had an agenda of caste politics, what does Mamata have apart from anti-Leftism? And with now the Left a thing of the past, Mamata urgently requires a new agenda if she aspires to extend her mandate. Taking blow after blow and with no definite answers to the state's financial and other woes, Mamata might even find her simple philanthropy failing to protect her support base one day.
Is Mamata really an alternative to the state?
Mamata still has to learn the art of governance. Just making hasty decisions without back-up thoughts and creating unnecessary fuss would not reduce her state's woes. Mamata can do a lot for the Singur farmers in other ways for they are the real losers in final count. But does she have the vision? In the past, she had created scenes in the Parliament in the past, went on a hunger-strike on a major road in Kolkata in the winter (the venue became a tourist spot with people from distant places of the state coming to see Mamata fasting) but then she was an opposition leader and was less accountable for her action.
When she repeats such strange act during a popular talk-show with mostly young representatives of the society eager to hear her say, it reflects what kind of alternative can she really offer to an aspiring society apart from comforting the rural electorate? Mamata, in all possibility, will return to power in 2016 even if with a reduced majority for there is no alternative but electoral politics is not the ultimate concern. The tragedy is that Bengal today lacks a credible leadership to pin hopes on for an all-round development. Ask the railway ministry.
(The opinion expressed here is the writer's own)