Mamata Banerjee needs to carve out a niche for herself, the Congress in West Bengal is desperate to come in from the cold. Between the two compulsions, Trinamool’s alliance with the UPA at the Centre is threatening to run aground. But it would be a mistake to ascribe any grand or sinister motive to West Bengal’s rumbustious new chief minister.
Those who imagine her laying the foundations of a new federal equation overrate her philosophical vision and political perception. Those who accuse her of blackmailing New Delhi on the eve of the Uttar Pradesh elections to gain benefits for her state malign her unnecessarily.
Didi, elder sister, as she is popularly called, is a street fighter in constant need of causes and contestants. After 34 years of dictatorial rule, the Marxist-led Left Front has been banished to the sidelines. If the state branch of the Congress party can at last be seen and heard, it’s only because Trinamool’s triumph has emboldened it to sneak out into the open and speak. So, who does the woman who is used to yelling raucously from the back of a jeep and to brawling in the well of the Lok Sabha engage with? The Union government is the only adversary worthy of her might.
Not that this is empty posturing. She needs to restore her credentials. Six months in office have done little to sustain and develop Mamata Banerjee’s image as the champion of the people. The mysterious deaths in government hospitals of 37 newborn babies and the tragedy of the AMRI hospital fire in which 92 people perished could not be laid at her door. But with discontent creeping in, any stick happens to be good enough to beat the chief minister with.
If she gets little effective support from her own people, that is largely her fault. She runs a tight ship, so tight that people call the Trinamool government a one-man show. By all accounts, her ministers enjoy the liberty only of agreeing with her. She has upset the civil service with her whimsical inductions and transfers that disregard the bureaucracy’s sacrosanct protocols. After 34 years of a tacit alliance with the Marxists, the business community feels all at sea. It had worked out a way of dealing with Jyoti Basu that survived under his successors. Didi is not sufficiently interested in personal gain to give them a chance of broaching a similar modus vivendi.
What shows through it all is utter inexperience. Mamta has shed two of the nine portfolios she assumed to start with; but even seven are too many for a woman who is temperamentally far more interested in public drama than in painstaking work on files. The Rs 500 note she bestowed on a clutch of little beggar children through the window of her car was typical of her style. She meant well, but had no idea how to help those children in a practical way.
She is now faced with the same dilemma on a much bigger scale. How does she acquire land to attract industry without alienating the peasants she championed at Nandigram and Singur? How does she give orders to civil servants she sees as her enemies because they loyally served the Left Front for 34 years? How does she make the most of businessmen suspected of bankrolling her Marxist enemies?
She is not wily enough to work these out. But her instinct tells her, rightly, that the people are with her. Middle class Bengal’s honeymoon with Didi’s turbulence may be wearing thin but Trinamool’s unprecedentedly large victory in the by-election for her vacated parliamentary seat showed her magic has lost none of its shine with the masses.
Shades of Indira Gandhi, she is therefore reaching out to the people who know nothing as yet of frustrated bureaucrats, disgruntled political colleagues and empty exchequers. They know only that the woman of their choice is at the helm.
The issues she has picked on to battle the Centre are carefully chosen to appeal to this, her only constituency. She can tell the Bengal peasant that the Teesta water agreement with Bangladesh will starve his paddy fields of water. She can convince small shopkeepers—the only Bengali entrepreneurs left in Bengal—that FDI in retail sales will profit only foreign superchains and the big Indian business houses, the Goenkas and Birlas, who represent them in India. She does not have to tell the Bengali professional classes that the Lokayukta clause is the thin end of the wedge of Hindi domination. Her stand on coal pricing or pensions is similarly designed to appeal to her constituency at home much more than to defy Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi.
If, as a consequence, she and the UPA part company, it is as well: it was never anything more than a token marriage to begin with, like her earlier association with the NDA. Trinamool may have launched a Goa branch, but Mamata Banerjee is not, and never has been, a national politician. She loses nothing by being cut down to regional size.
Apropos Sunanda K. Datta-Ray’s column Chappals Firmly Grounded, it is incomprehensible that a state famed for its intellectualism and political savvy is doomed to suffer either under the Communists who are prisoners of an antiquated ideology or under a destructive Mamata who is guided more by rebellious instinct than by intellect.
D.L. Narayan, Visakhapatnam
The Congress should be careful about replacing Mamata with Mulayam. If he gets 170-180 seats in UP, he can form a government on his own, and he will be as difficult a bargainer as Mamata, if not more.
Ultimately, Mamata needs to govern and control the thugs who shifted allegiance from the CPI(M) to the TMC. She must also drop ex-Youth Congress strongmen like Madan Mitra, Mukul Roy and Atin Ghosh and bring in qualified individuals like Amit Mitra, and allow them to function independently. For the first time since independence, Bengal farmers are committing suicide and she’s refusing to acknowledge it.
Arun R. Bangalore
Ramki - In bengali they would call you a 'rampa(n)ttha' the kind of logic you are producing!
At the end of the day, she needs to govern & control the thugs that shifted allegiance from CPM to TMC. She needs to drop ex-Youth Congress strongmen like Madan Mitra, Mukul Roy and Atin Ghosh and bring qualified individuals like Amit Mitra into the picture - and allow them to function independently. Courtesy Mamata, Railways is now running at a huge loss - she understands publicity and spends public money to build her own image - same is the case with state government.
For the first time since independence, bengal farmers are committing suicide and she is refusing to acknowledge the same. Pensioners are not getting pension, workers are not getting their dues from government.
She needs to govern and do it seriously with the help of professional people, thats all.
>>>>>>Please explain the term, 'thriving middle class of West Bengal'...Mr Mukherjee, post no 18
Middle class is an amorphous term and there is no clear definition of the term. One can say that anyone who is neither rich nor poor belongs to the middle class. But it is too simplistic a definition because it does not take into consideration factors like lifestyle, education and spending pattern.
For example, many barely literate individuals like vegetable vendors might have higher incomes than say, a college lecturer, but the vegetable seller can never been slotted as middle class and a lecturer, with his educational credentials, can never be slotted in the proletariat class.
Generally accepted criteria for a member of the middle class is:
1. Teriary education: Not just the individual but his entire family including parents and extended family
2. Spending pattern of disposable income: More likely to spend on books, magazines, cultural pursuits or save for the future.
3. Lifestyle: House is kept clean and maintains high level of personal hygiene. Leisure is spent in intellectual pursuits as opposed to hedonistic pursuits.
4. Manner of speech and conduct
5. Value systems
6. Type of work: More likely to be in a white collar profession.
If a member of the proletariat has Rs. 100, he is most likely going to spend it on booze or other hedonistic activities. A middle class person will most likely spend it for buying a book or attending a concert. A middle class person will seek to live in a cleaner neighbourhood by cutting down on other expenses than one who isn't who will stay in a slum and use the money saved for eating/drinking etc.
At the risk of simplification, I can say that anyone whose family members are educated and cultured and lead genteel lives even if they lack economic means belong to the middle classes. Hence, Mamata and Budhdhadev do belong to the middle classes.
In the ultimate analysis, what matters is not the income level but the value systems. Which is why someone like Narayana Murthy of Infosys belongs to the middle class even though he is a billionaire as does an impoverished teacher with post graduate education, who is struggling to make both ends meet.
Mr D. L. Narayan, please explain the term, 'thriving middle class of West Bengal'. I'm not saying that the so called 'intelligensia' don't exist. How do we use the term 'middle class', so generally? The term 'class' is a word which describes a western social phenomenon. It has to do with a group of people, who have a similar material standing in society. Belonging to any intelligensia does not make a person belong to the middle class. I personally think that Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Ms Mamata Banerjee, don't possess enough materially, to be called middle class. These people do represent a people who feel that they are better off, but not materially. And other people have been influenced by their sentiments. Like someone in this forum said, Ms Mamata Banerjee doesn't take pains to show that she is an intellectual. And what is an intellectual? A person who tries to express the mind? It seems to me, all Bengali's are intellectual. If they can't express ideas, then they express their emotions, and ideas along with emotions, or if each stands alone, can express the intellect. I am a Bengali, who admires the language of Bengal, but does not attempt to speak the language, because I am reticent that I cannot speak properly.
It was Sri Rabindranath Tagore, who standardised the language of Bengal. There were many, who lived before his times, who didn't speak like he did. Sri Ramakrishna is such a person. If I may be frank, to speak to Sri Ramakrishna, one had to speak like him, unless one belonged to his direct disciples. I would never dream of using the language of Tagore, if I were to converse with Sri Ramakrishna.
The dialect before Sri Tagore, had to do with expression, and grammar was not very important.
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