“The rail hike is against Trinamool’s DNA”. —Derek O’Brien, Trinamool MP
Over the past few years, in a series of blog posts, I have put the three-leaf-clover of the Trinamool under my electron microscope, trying to decode its DNA. My conclusion, not that it is particularly novel, was that “What people were calling the eclipsing of Communism in Bengal with Buddhadev’s defeat was actually its revival. Because Trinamool’s DNA is an exact clone of what used to be the CPM’s DNA under Jyoti Basu.” “Under Jyoti Basu” is a significant modifier because there had been a slight jiggling of the CPM DNA during the rule of Buddhadev Bhattacharya, where based on some genetic perturbations, the new leader had come to embrace concepts hethetro considered anathema to the Communists, like the aggressive wooing of industrial investment. It was not however an X-Men type radical mutation, (which was what was needed) because when push came to shove (with Didi providing both the push as well as the shove), Buddhadev was found to be unwilling, or unable to, chemo out the cancer of “party”-sponsored violence and intimidation.
What I had said, of course, had been based on my own observations of Mamata Banerjee’s “scorched earth” tactics of political agitation when she was in the opposition, tactics that had been used by the Left Front to propel themselves into power eons ago.
Has the fundamental nature of the TMC changed, now that she is in power?
As a matter of fact, TMC-raaj has reflected, sometimes in almost bizarre ways, its similitude with the Left Front rule under Jyoti Basu. But then again, DNA’s don’t really change, do they now?
In the last paragraph, I have used the word “bizarre”. Here is how bizarre. Didi has recently mandated that the city of Kolkata be painted blue because the “sky does not have any limit.” [Video]. This is of course a sagacious move since it stands to reason that using crores of public money to paint the city blue will go further in unlocking its limitless potential than spending that money to fix some of its well-documented but less-poetic problems. [Link]. For those of us old enough to think of Mahender Sandhu’s face rather than Saif Ali Khan’s when “Agent Vinod” is mentioned, this move jogged back memories—memories of an old acolyte of Jyoti Basu by the name of Jatin Chakraborty, who as the Public Works Department minister had commanded the top of the Ochterloney Monument (now called Shaheed Minar) to be painted red. Red because that is the color of the blood of martyrs. And so the crown of one of Calcutta’s most recognizable monuments was painted as crimson as a baboon’s bottom and there it stayed, till Jatin Chakraborty fell out of favor with Jyoti Basu, over the “Bengal Lamp” controversy. Painting walls and monuments, in what may be considered by some to be a gesture of triumphalism (Red= Communist, Blue= Not Red) is something that is common to both the TMC and the Jyoti-Basu CPM’s political DNA. In TMC’s defense though, they could well have asked the city to be painted Green (Green=regeneration). Blue, at least, is a better color. Plus it is considered to be an appetite suppressant.
Then of course, is the CPM and TMC’s attitude towards industry. Over here, I am not just referring to the love both share for militant trade-unionship but to the general cluelessness displayed by their respective leaders in knowing how to attract investment. If anyone ever heard Jyoti Basu trying to invite industry to invest in the state, one would be forgiven for thinking that it is he who was doing industry a favor by deigning to talk to them, an attitude no doubt inherited from decades of being brainwashed by a philosophy that demonizes anyone who has a profit-motive. Cut forward to a few decades to Mamata Banerjee’s address at Bengal Leads 2012. It’s not just statements like Bangladesh sharing a border with Pakistan that was shockingly unprofessional but the general tenor of her talk where she individually names the captains of industry sitting in the audience and asks each of them “Why do you not invest in Bengal?” [Link]
The business community had an unexpected grilling at the hands of chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Bengal Leads 2012 on Monday. Some of them were called out by name and asked to explain why they have not invested in the state so far, despite ‘the ground having been cleared’.
“I may not know as much as you do… but may I ask what is it that’s stopping you from investing in Bengal?” asked Mamata, who took a bullish posture in pleading for quick investment at the meet. First, she singled out the representatives of foreign nations who were seated in the front rows. It was then the turn of the local industrialists to face her questions.
” Japan, do you want to invest in Bengal?” she asked a Japanese delegation. “What about my Chinese friends? US? Are you interested? UK? My German friends?” she queried. As some German representatives nodded in affirmation, the chief minister looked pleased and thanked them. “Bangladesh er keu achen ki?” she wanted to know. As none responded, she turned back to the bureaucrats seated on the dais and asked, “Didn’t you invite them?”
It was then the local industry’s turn to face her inquest. ITC chairman Y C Deveshwar was the first to be picked out. Then JSW chairman, managing director Sajjan Jindal. “ITC? Interested? DLF? Mr Jindal when will your industry happen? We have done everything possible to clear your proposals fast, haven’t we?” she said. “And what about you Mr Patton Tank?” she asked industrialist Sanjay Budhia, MD of the Patton Group. “
Now supporters of Didi, and there are innumerably many, would say that this kind of chuminess is “Didi’s oratorical style”. It was definitely original. But given Bengal’s less-than-stellar record of attracting and retaining industrial investment, would not just a presentation with facts and figures and policy statements, go more towards showing that the new government means business, than doing what TOI rightly refers to as “grilling” wherein individuals are asked to stand up and answer, schoolboy style? Does anyone think that captains of industry will say the truth when cornered in a public forum on camera? Okay. Can we at least agree that calling the MD of the Patton Group “Mr. Patton Tank” does not exactly convey the serious “I want your business” professionalism that would be apposite for such an address?
Next we come to the “conspiracy theories”. If you think that Zaid Hameed and Basit Ali are a bit over-the-top, you have not listened to the CPM party leadership. Short of alien abductions and anal probes, they exhausted every conspiracy theory in their decades in power. Dunkell of the dreaded General Agreement on Trade and Tariff. Reagan. Bush. The World Bank. The World Trade Organization. The Central government or more accurately their “stepmotherly treatment”. Each and every one of them was blamed for being in on a gigantic Dan-Brownish conspiracy to strangle the people’s republic of West Bengal. Not that the state did not have genuine grievances, freight equalization and Congress’s pandering of their stronghold states in favor of West Bengal for example, but to lay the entire blame for Bengal’s misgovernment on them was to, put it mildly, outrageous. During the last election campaign and before too, the CPM (and yes this was under Buddhadev) repeatedly accused Mamata Banerjee of being in the pay of the USA. Which when you think of it is very plausible—since Obama, as we know, is briefed everyday in the morning about developments in West Bengal and the West Bank.
One would have thought that Didi, who had been the object of vituperative attacks by the CPM, would do things differently. Alas not. When an alarming number of crib deaths were reported from government hospitals, it was blamed on a CPM conspiracy. When a woman was raped in a moving vehicle in Calcutta, Didi called it all fabricated, a conspiracy against her government. Then when the truth of the rape could not be denied (thanks to Joint Commisioner of Police Damayanti Sen’s exemplary competence ) , she accused a media house, ironically the one which had been her biggest cheerleader for decades, of manipulating it at all. And if that was not enough, a Trinamool minister blamed the victim for the rape and called her character into question : “She has two children, and so far as I know, she is separated from her husband. What was she doing at a nightclub so late at night?”
Perhaps plotting against the government.
When yet another woman was raped, Didi blamed it on….yes…you know exactly whom she blamed it on.
Less than a fortnight after drawing flak for her disparaging comments on the Park Street rape victim, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday squarely blamed the Left for the deteriorating law and order condition in West Bengal. She claimed that the 30-year-old woman allegedly raped by a gang of armed robbers on Sunday too was a set-up. Mamata also hit out at the Left over the recent spate of crib deaths in the state, saying it was an attempt to discredit her government
“Fake rape charges are being levelled to malign Bengal’s good name. Baby deaths too are a planned conspiracy by the Left,” said Mamata. She added, “Six rapes were reported in Delhi yesterday. In Bengal, there shouldn’t be any such instance. After all, we are all decent people here.”
With the district collector of Burdwan in tow, the first woman chief minister of the state seemed to rubbish the 30-year-old rape victim’s claims, saying that she was the wife of a CPM worker and a part of an elaborate Left conspiracy against her government.
“Medical evidence has proved that she was not raped. The girl said that her husband is a local CPM worker,” Mamata claimed.
The woman, whose husband has been dead for 11 years, said she was hurt by the chief minister’s claims. “She (Mamata Banerjee) is a woman. She should know a woman will never go on her own and say that she was raped. I am very hurt.”
Now one may be wondering, especially if one is aware of the rather militantly agitational nature of Kolkata’s much-vaunted intelligentsia, where are they in the midst of it all? Surely blaming the victim or casting aspersions on her character would be enough to get a few dharnas out on the street, like how all the “natyokormis” (theater-workers) and assorted intellectuals, ran around like screaming banshees during Nandigram-Singur. So what happened now? Exactly what happened to the intellectuals during Jyoti Basu’s rule. They developed decades of strep-throat, maintaining radio silence during rapes at Bantala and Birati. Of course small matters like periodic scraps thrown at them through the organization of soirees at Nandan, appointment to committees and asking them to sing at union events, had nothing to do with the loss of their revolutionary voice. Under the new TMC administration, intellectuals (who claim to be “independent”) have been similarly satisfied , getting plum posts in nice places. All a co-incidence of course.
If painting the city, blaming others and pandering to intellectuals are the Thyamine, Adenine and Cytosine then populism is surely the Guanine. While in opposition, both the TMC and the old CPM used bandhs as a show of strength, a bargaining chip and most importantly as a move that was killer in its populism–who does not like a free holiday while at the same time feeling good about supporting a cause (unless you have someone critically ill or a non-postponeable examination to take)? Now of course, TMC has realized its mistake and wants to cut the salaries of everyone who skipped work because of the last bandh (not supported by them). The fact that they are now in power has of course nothing to do with this most convenient change of heart.
And to be honest, why does one need a Bandh? One can achieve the same goals by just…let’s see…declaring a new holiday. Same loss of productivity, same feel good.
It is this type of “Doctor na fees maangi hai” Clerkish populism that characterizes most of TMC’s decisions. FDI in retail? Let’s take the old Marxist angle—the US imperialist chains will strangle the poor Indian retailer. Is this the truth? No. Is this a story that the public will buy? Definitely. Hence TMC opposes FDI in retail. Just like the CPM opposed computerization in the 80s because then people would lose jobs, Uncle Sam would steal the ilish fish and cyborgs would take over Writer’s Building.
Is an across-the-board increase in railway fares, imperative for recouping operational costs, needed? Yes. Will opposing it strengthen the Ma-Maati-Manush populist image? Definitely. Hence TMC opposes increase in rail fares.
And finally, the TMC is all about Mamata Banerjee. There is but one voice, one leader and anyone who goes against what she wants, has no place in its politics. In this respect, it is not much different from most political parties in India, which are almost all personality-driven, autocratic and brook no dissent. Remember Somnath Chatterjee? His years of seniority and stellar record (ironically it was he who lost to Mamata Banerjee when she was an unknown during the Rajiv wave of 1985), did nothing to protect him when he took a stance against the CPM.
But one thing needs mention.What others perceive as TMC’s capriciousness is perfectly consistent with the politics of Mamata Banerjee and her history of agitation. That she passionately hates the CPM is well known. What is not that well-understood is that she has an almost equal distaste for the Congress, her old party which she very appropriately called out as “the B team of the CPM”. The Congress was very much a nudge-nudge-wink-wink opposition to the CPM for decades, whose central leadership, more than once, hung her out to dry to curry favor from the CPM for support in Delhi. For decades without the support of a party, she waged a lone battle against the formidable CPM machinery, sometimes at great personal risk to her safety (she was almost killed by an attack on her during a rally). It was she who, again in an effort spanning years, built for herself the grassroots organization (mostly from ex-CPM power-merchants perceptive enough to see how Buddha was losing control) that is now the TMC. For the Congress, which had tried to sabotage her at every step, if they think she is going to give them her unqualified support, well they need to stop smoking whatever it is they are.
In this context, one recalls the years Didi spent asking the Center to impose President’s rule in Bengal and Congress turning a deaf ear to her impassioned plea. [Link]
Taking the battle against the Left Front government in West Bengal [ Images ] to the Centre, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday met Home Minister P Chidamabaram and demanded the imposition of President’s rule to ‘save democracy’ in the state.
“The Centre should dismiss the state government and impose President’s rule as it is necessary to save democracy there,” she told reporters after meeting Chidambaram. The Trinamool Congress chief said the Centre should utilise the provisions under Article 355 (to protect a state against external aggression and internal disturbance) followed by Article 356 (to dismiss a state government and impose President’s rule) so as to restore the rule of the law in West Bengal.
Yes. The same person who opposes measures like NCTC because it impinges on State’s rights and goes on record saying that the UPA government is running roughshod over the concept of federalism, has spent years asking for one of the most abused provisions of our Constitution to be applied to dismiss a democratically elected government. No problem there.
As should be evident by now, Didi just wants to give the Congress a hard time in the same way they gave her, for years on end, siding with her rivals in the state Congress and making deals with the CPM. She will embarrass the Congress even more so if she knows that it gets her brownie points for populism. And trust me, given her long years in opposition, saying “No” comes very naturally. Which explains why she has more or less consistently opposed everything that the Congress has tried to do. Which is why, even today, she talks about being given respect. Because in the 80s and the 90s, the Congress gave her none.
In conclusion, the TMC’s behavior as one sees today, is as much guided by its DNA ( nature) as it is by its history (nurture). Anyone interested in their story should do well to remember this.