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Moving towards Semi-Fascism in West Bengal

The Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee came to power in West Bengal with a massive mandate and widespread support from all sections of the people. One year on, its report card is dismal and the state's future prospects appear even more gloomy.


Moving towards Semi-Fascism in West Bengal

Ishita Mukhopadhyay

slogan, parivartan (change). No one denies that Singur and Nandigram were potent issues over land that called for change. Another reason for change cited in the media was the high-handedness of left activists at the local level in some places. But there were no allegations of

The Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee came to power in West Bengal with a massive mandate and widespread support from all sections of the people. One year on, its report card is dismal and the state’s future prospects appear even more gloomy.

Ishita Mukhopadhyay (imukhopadhyay@ is at the department of economics, University of Calcutta.

ropelled by a massive mandate, the All-India Trinamool Congress government came to power in West Bengal in May 2011. But as the Mamata Banerjee-led government moves towards its first anniversary, the people of the state are experiencing a ban on newspapers in government libraries, rape cases have been labelled “conspiracy theories”, educational institutions attacked, professors arrested, the poor evicted from slums in the name of beautifi cation, bargadars (sharecroppers) alienated from their agricultural land, the voices of elected panchayats stifled, anti-government protests suppressed and a reign of intolerance has been inaugurated. The question is why? If the government had the mandate of the people and the people trusted it, why has it turned on them?

Banerjee had the support of intellectuals, both those sympathetic to the right and those who supported the principles of the extreme left, like the Maoists. She had the support of the urban elite as well as the poor. After declaring that it would cooperate with all propeople policies of the new government, the opposition Left Front also said it would play a constructive role in the state legislative assembly. Banerjee did not face media criticism to the extent the earlier government courtenanced. The criticism commenced only when she and her party members began antagonising the people of the state. So we have the unanswered question of why the chief minister is on a warpath.

The Trinamool Congress defeated a left coalition led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – (CPI-M) – in the election. Like every electorate, the people of Bengal must have had many expectations. However, Banerjee’s party came to power on the strength of a single

may 26, 2012

scams or corruption against the Left Front unlike in other states where incumbent political parties have found themselves mired in such charges. On the whole, we could take it that the people expressed a clear preference for a transparent and clean administration.

Who were the most vocal advocates of change before and during the poll? It was the intellectual elite that repeatedly raised its voice in the media and earned the name of sushil samaj, meaning wellmeaning social members. This elite formed the face of civil society and were out on the streets, pointing to the Left Front’s deficits. We saw the unmaking of Banerjee the volatile street activist and the making of Banerjee the ruler of a state. The sushil samaj had a big role to play in this transformation. The process involved sidelining the lumpen-based party organisation of the Trinamool Congress, which had not been accepted earlier by the people, and bringing the elite to the forefront of the election campaign. So there was a silent alliance of the anti-left, particularly anti-communist, elite and the party faithful. Both sections calculated on overthrowing the other after victory and Banerjee did nothing to dissuade them. In addition, this being the age of neo-liberal policies, Banerjee had the support of domestic capitalists, who, encouraged by the much-discussed potential of “Look East” policies, were interested in investing in the state.

After victory, Banerjee did not take long to disenchant Maoist sympathisers and the intellectuals of the sushil samaj. The only group she did not displease was hard-core Trinamool Congress members and supporters. The main difference between them and the rest of her backers was the way in which they approached the question of exercising control over others. The party’s hard-headed loyalists

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Economic & Political Weekly


exercise power by force, silencing all voices of reason. Banerjee trying to capture power needed the support of all the anti-left forces, but Banerjee in power needs only those who fl ex their muscles.

The Trinamool Congress is essentially a one-person show that is devoid of internal democracy. There is no party spokesperson other than Banerjee. No minister makes a statement without uttering her name at least thrice and she is the only one who speaks on behalf of all her ministers. Some say she is the ultimate authoritarian – incapable of accepting any censure. Indeed, her intolerance of cartoons portraying her borders on this. But what makes Banerjee different from the authoritarian fi gures seen in many other political parties and gives her clout in New Delhi is the power she demonstrated in overturning the Left Front, which had ruled West Bengal for 34 years.

At the time of the election people discussed the shortcomings of the Left Front regime. But the logic of participative democracy suggests it must have had some achievements if it remained in office for more than three decades. There was the success story of rural transformation through panchayats and the redistribution of land by means of land reforms. Rural to urban migration was contained to a large extent by the spread of employment opportunities in rural areas. The state also provided a cushion to distressed farmers, while there were reports of suicides by them in other parts of the country. After the government changed, the state has witnessed a series of suicides by farmers and also reportedly by workers whose wages had not been paid. Law and order in the state is in a precarious position with a lumpen raj calling the shots.

The experience of the people in the last three decades was different. One could argue that it was not the best, but it was definitely different. A salient feature was that they learnt to organise themselves through various mass organisations. These outfits were not all political or left-leaning in essence. Many of them were social and cultural, with the left regime providing a space for all kinds of groupings. One can hardly fi nd a person in the state who is not a part of an organisation, be it a trade union, an employees’ association, a students’ organisation, a youth organisation, a women’s organisation or a citizens’ organisation. These alliances were wellversed in the practice of participatory democracy and spoke for as well as against the state government. What Banerjee is afraid of is people being aware and exercising their rights. Oppression by the Left Front was a story that could be told before the poll, but it is difficult to keep repeating it after gaining power.

Power has been a new experience for the Trinamool Congress. The party and its leader were in the news internationally for defeating the Left Front. To maintain the tempo, Banerjee has to let loose her supporters on the people to make them forget the power of argument and their organisations. She also needs to silence opinion-makers in society such as teachers and educational institutions. Those who have social prestige and the potential to turn into critics of the government must be stigmatised. A convenient way of doing this is calling all such people communists.

Before the 2011 elections, the Trinamool Congress was charged with leading a hate campaign and murdering left supporters with the help of Maoists. The Maoist-Trinamool linkage was very clear in the Jangalmahal villages and the Maoists openly declared they wanted Banerjee to be the chief minister of Bengal. Both sides acted as joint agents to oust the Left Front. But with Banerjee in power, the Maoists have not been able to remain her allies. Yet, to the neo-liberal lobby in the country, she is welcome because she confronts the left, which has consistently opposed its brand of reforms.

Neither the extreme left nor the sushil samaj can be fully relied on to further Banerjee’s agenda. So what needs to be undone are the taste of democracy and power of participation the people have, and the strength of their organisations. By the time all of Kolkata’s landmarks acquire a new coat of blue paint, which the chief minister favours, its people could be reduced to voiceless spectators. There is already little room for protest or criticism. They are told to have no truck with the left, what newspapers to read and what channels to get their news from. A Trinamool minister has even reportedly called for a social boycott of the left. And, of course, all the government’s inadequacies will be the result of machinations by the devious left.


Doctoral Programme 2012 (Affiliated to Jadavpur University, Kolkata)

Applications are invited from eligible candidates for admission to the Doctoral Programme 2012 for which a maximum of 25 (twenty fi ve) candidates will be admitted. For eligibility criterion and other details please visit: Applicants may also contact the Office of the Programme Officer (M.Phil. - Ph.D.) at CSSSC at R-1, Baishnabghata Patuli Township, Kolkata 7000094. Application Forms are available on the website and from the office of the Program Officer (M-Phil – Ph.D), CSSSC. Last date of receiving applications is, June 29, 2012.

Dr. Saibal Kar

Registrar (Acting)

Economic & Political Weekly

may 26, 2012 vol xlviI no 21

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