West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) Mamata Banerjee on Thursday showed her softer side to the taxi drivers plying in Kolkata. The minimum fine for refusing passengers was reduced by a huge margin while the taxi drivers were given all the freedom in the world to refuse in the night.
Pampering taxi-drivers, even 'validating' their refusal
The hands of the law-enforcement agencies were tied so that the taxi drivers were dealt with humanely and not harassed.
The latter were also given the chance to approach a steering committee which was set up under a state minister (in the absence of the transport minister who was arrested recently in connection to a chit fund scam) in case they were put under pressure.
Nice pampering, isn't it. Critics said the chief minister, despite being the police minister herself, was playing to the gallery ahead of the civic election.
Mamata trying to imitate AAP's sophisticated populism?
But one feels that is not the entire story. Chief Minister Banerjee is trying this move as an act of imitation of the politics of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has come to power with an unexpected majority in the just-concluded Delhi election.
Auto-rickshaws worked for Kejriwal, will taxis do it for Mamata?
The AAP, whom Banerjee supported and praised after the results came out saying it marked a welcome change in national politics, had included the auto-rickshaws of the national capital as a plan to enhance its poll prospects both in 2013 and 2015.
The three-wheeled vehicle has been a special medium to mobilise the AAP's fresh concept of state politics in Delhi and it paid off brilliantly for Arvind Kejriwal's party on both instances.
Banerjee's govt faced problems with protesting taxi drivers and unions till recently
Sitting in the state secretariat in Kolkata, Banerjee took a leaf out of Kejriwal's book. Banerjee's government was facing uneasy moments over repeated protests and strikes by taxi drivers and unions over reasons like fare hike and police atrocities and she stressed that such acts could not be tolerated.
On Thursday, the TMC chief decided to reduce the gap with the taxi drivers drastically, just like Kejriwal had done with the auto-rickshaw drivers despite facing flak from them at times.
So is Banerjee eyeing to import a new 'class' dimension in the state politics to beat the BJP factor in the civic polls this year and the high-profile state polls scheduled next year?
She certainly is.
Wooing urban sentiments to deal with BJP?
The AAP's victory has rejuvenated the traditional secular forces of Indian forces who have been losing the battle against Narendra Modi of late.
Banerjee, who has a huge stake in minority appeasement, has not really found a way out to deal with the BJP's appeal among the middle-class and the taxi politics could be a fresh attempt by her to mobilise the middle-class sentiments in her favour.
But there are differences between Mamata and Kejriwal after Delhi polls
But the problem is that the Banerjee government has already seen a strong anti-incumbency setting in and the honest image of the chief minister has also taken a beating, thanks to the Saradha scam.
Just like AAP backed Delhi's auto rickshaws, Mamata is pampering taxi drivers
These are two of the biggest differences between Kejriwal and Banerjee at the moment and imitating the AAP's auto-rickshaw politics now might not be adequate to revive the goodwill of Banerjee's government.
Moreover, unlike in Delhi where the vote-share of the exhausted Congress moved to the AAP, Banerjee has little to win unlike the BJP which has made deep inroads in the Left's vote-share.
Can Mamata gain by appeasing one section at the expense of another?
Hence, annoying one section of the middle-class (read commuters) while backing another (taxi drivers and unions) is not the best of the moves Banerjee has made.