Bengal election results May 2011: What next?
by Saradindu Mukherji on 18 May 2011 2 Comments

The first big reward from the Sonia-Manmohan government to the people, for the “trust” reposed in them by the unfortunate and gullible people of this land, has come - perhaps a bit too early. With an unprecedented hike of petrol prices by a whopping five rupees - only the ninth in nine months - there is hopefully one immediate opportunity for Mamata to rejoice or reject it in anger. Till now, she is not on record criticizing this atrocious and conspicuous anti-people measure by this government in New Delhi, also one of the most corrupt governments anywhere in the world today.  


Her reaction to this would be the first test of Mamata’s new brand of politics and the wind of change she is expected to generate, by the hapless TMC supporters in Bengal, and elsewhere in the country. My criterion is: only if she can reverse the hike in toto, she might do something positive in the next few months. Otherwise, stop expecting much from her.


One can’t be selectively conformist if one takes the vote in the name of the common man, and all of a sudden becomes apathetic to their miseries. And then, the tendency to rebel for similar issues just because it was not politically profitable would be the surest blow to one’s credibility. Defiance or conformism must be based on issues, not blatant opportunism. But then, Mamata is not exactly known for her consistency in advocacy of principles. We can easily see this double standard in her attitude on “secularism” or so many other issues, as we shall see below.


The overwhelming victory of the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee was never a surprise, neither was the stunning defeat of the CPI-M led government. Thirty-five years of uninterrupted rule by any combination is a bit too much, and to that extent a replacement of the rulers was overdue. Paribartan or Change was the objective bandied about for quite sometime. But only time would tell if meaningful change is really taking place and West Bengal, still recovering from the devastating consequences of Partition and many issues related to that, neglect by the Central government,  and mismanaged by successive regimes in Bengal, is at long last being put on the right track.


Everything depends on the style and substance of the governance fashioned by Mamata Banerjee. It needs to be borne in mind that this is a political party led by just one individual, much like the dynastic party of India, through which Mamata had entered politics and which happens to be her subordinate partner now, and to whose leadership(!), she has to flaunt her loyalty every now and then. No one else matters in this party, much similar to its parent organization, and so there would be too much pressure to perform on the new Chief Minister.


The Left front and the NDA were run on consensus among several players. Otherwise, the quantum and quality of change would partially depend on the Cabinet she forms, the agenda she sets, the direction she gives, the bureaucratic reshuffle she makes, and the way she handles them. In fairness, one has to wait six months to one year to say how this government is doing.


People have doubts, even those who have passionately voted her, about her administrative skill, and her capacity for overhauling the system. Her electoral victory has been achieved largely by negative votes. While approaching anything close to the level of performance of Narendra Modi may be a bit too much to expect from her, given her administrative track-record, if she can adopt some policies of other effective Chief Ministers like Nitish Kumar and Raman Singh, she would be on solid ground. Hence, she has to demonstrate something substantial within a couple of months, and establish her credibility as a Chief Minister who means business.


But that is a big challenge. Why so, one might ask. Unfortunately, one of the first statements she made after her victory was that she would be contacting the Chairperson of the UPA for the Cabinet formation. Is this the way she is going to create a New Bengal? Does she not know the incalculable harm the Sonia-Ahmad Patel-Manmohan triumvirate has inflicted on the people of India? Is she not yet aware of the mega-scams, the runaway inflation and its pathetic record on Islamic terrorism?


One way to judge the calibre of the new government would be in its ability to bring an end to the Stalinist mechanism of total control put in place by the Communists. Every apparatus of the state and the patronage network - right from the panchayat level, school teachers, police, higher education, other government services, trade unions - every profession you name, they filled up with their loyal henchmen. Without state patronage they would just wither away, provided they feel that this dispensation is going to complete at least one term. But any failure of the TMC to deliver on promises made would expose it in no time: and if the Left loyalists get any hint about the impending break-up of the TMC, they would refuse to budge from the positions and sinecures they have been bestowed with over the years.


She has to restrain her followers (69 TMC MLAs out of 183 have criminal backgrounds) from indulging in violence and be seen to be absolutely impartial in her treatment of the Left Front supporters. Law and order, infrastructure development and securing substantial FDI should be her focus. She must create jobs and provide basic civic amenities, including potable water in areas which have serious problems in these matters. Primary health and village schools, and not madrasas, need urgent attention. Her administrative-political behaviour and initial signals must be inviting enough for well-meaning investors.


Besides restoring law and order in the districts, and security on Indo-Bangladesh borders, which includes the big traffic in women from Bangladesh, the thriving business in counterfeit currency sent by Pakistan through Bangladesh, cattle smuggling, she must ensure that the no-go areas which dot many parts of Kolkata, like Garden Reach, Metiaburuz or Park Circus and numerous such enclaves dominated by the Muslim underworld all over Bengal, are not kept beyond the law and order machinery permanently as previous governments had done.  


Mamata kept telling every TV anchor that Bengal’s case was different from other states where also political changes were on the anvil. She meant that in no state was government monopolized by one political formation for more than three decades. Indeed so! Jayalalithaa had ruled earlier too. But she did not tell, and that she would not tell, as long as she flaunts her commitment to pseudo-secularism a few relevant things.


Yes, post-independence, Bengal politics is unique in the sense that few areas of India have suffered at the hands of Islam as Bengal has over a period of eight hundred years. This state, one of the most economically, educationally, culturally and politically advanced states before 1947, suffered terribly during partition because of the predominance of Muslims in some areas. There is an on-going and most systematic religio-ethnic cleansing of Hindus (along with Buddhists in the Chittagong Hill District) from the region earlier called East Pakistan and now Bangladesh, with the result that the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian minorities have been reduced to a mere 8% of the population; it was 30% at the time of partition. Whereas the Muslim population has continued to rise in West Bengal, and right now it stands at 23% and in many districts they are in the majority.


Far from carrying out an exchange of population as in the Punjab, there have been state-supported Muslim migrations from Bangladesh, initiated by both Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Jyoti Basu. Bengal’s “secular” politicians and its jihad-friendly intelligentsia would do well to remember that Tamil Nadu politicians including those running the administration from Fort St. George routinely insist that the Central Government ensure the honour and safety of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and Congress Ministers and high Central officials like India’s Foreign Secretary have to personally brief the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister about the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils. How many Bengal politicians/intellectuals/artists would do that? Can you remember Amartya Sen, Mahashweta Devi, or artists promoted by Mamata ever mentioning the tragedy of Hindus in Bangladesh?  


No wonder, the number of Muslim members in the newly elected Assembly has gone up from 46 to59 - an increase of 13 seats. Out of these 59 Muslim MLAs, 25 are from the TMC and 15 from the Sonia-Rahul Congress. Mamata can’t go on playing the Muslim card for long. It is accepted by all - including her numerous supporters - that she has been blatantly pro-Muslim, and her penchant for offering Islamic prayers at the drop of a hat has already caused ripples even among her supporters. Yet, they voted because they had no other alternative. A resurgent BJP could have had a chance, but they did not take up the challenge seriously.


Her much dramatized campaign for the unfortunate Muslim boy who was found dead after marriage with a Calcutta-based Hindu industrialist’s daughter, stands in sharp contrast with her total silence when a Hindu boy was murdered following his marriage with a Muslim girl in Murshidabad. Obviously her definition of “secularism” remains as dangerous as her original Indira-Rajib Congress, and that of her electoral rivals whom she has demolished. Of course, she displayed no feeling for the Maa of the dead Hindu boy, but lots for the Amma of the dead Muslim boy.


It was rightly pointed out by a taxi-driver in Calcutta who had suffered during the rampage let loose by TMC followers following the Muslim boy’s death, that it was high time Mamata replaced Maa with Amma. There is no record to show that she has ever bothered to visit any Hindu home when their daughters were abducted by Muslims, converted to Islam and forced into nikaah. In her hour of electoral victory, pushing under the carpet such blatantly partial and dangerous behaviour would be immoral and suicidal.


In this connection, I would mention a bizarre statement during her campaigning in Magrahat, Murshidabad on 20 April (Anandabazar Patrika, 21 April 2011), when she is reported to have remarked that some of the “discipline-breaking” independent candidates were Mir Jafars and Kafirs. She surprisingly went on to explain that kafirs were those whom Muslims consider as “Bidharmi” - those belonging to other religions. (It may not be out of place to say that Mir Jafar need not be seen as a traitor. It is because of his “treachery” that Islamic rule ended in Bengal and the Hindus of Bengal got a chance to live and prosper, yes, I mean so, under the British rule, despite all that they [British] did. Their rule was superior and humane in many respects from Islamic/Arabic imperialism).


In civilisational terms, this was a most remarkable statement from this pro-Muslim politician. It clearly means she is not ignorant of the theological sanction for bigotry, and yet she has no word of sympathy for the victims, because Hindus remain, particularly in Bengal, most apathetic, if not allergic, to their declining position.


One more interesting thing. In another election rally in April, Mamata made an appeal to many which, besides minorities, also mentioned refugees. This is breathtaking to say the least!  Who are these refugees - they are the Hindu victims of religio-ethnic-cleansing from Bangladesh! Is she serious? Can she solve their problems? If she can, she would be enshrined in History in golden letters. Perhaps no community has ever suffered as much at the hands of Islamic zealots as the Hindus of Bengal, as the venerable Sita Ram Goel used to say. Lets’ wish her the best right now and hope for the best.


The writer teaches History in the University of Delhi, Delhi

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