“Jodi tor daak shuney keo na aashey tobey ekla cholo re” (If no one responds to you call, walk on alone). I wonder if Mamata Banerjee was remembering these lines from Tagore while taking the decision to go ahead and call for a no-confidence motion against the UPA II government. Before D-day, that is the first day of the winter session of Parliament, she had called on everyone— friends and foes alike— but everyone turned her down. Tagore’s words were intended to arouse the nation’s patriotism during the time of the Independence movement. Mamata no doubt feels that her move to topple the present government is no less significant. The issues over which they would call a no-confidence motion were the same as those over which they had withdrawn support— the introduction of 51 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the retail sector and the scrapping of subsidies on more than six cooking gas cylinders per annum. These were “anti-poor” and a government which wants to implement such policies must go.
So as per the agenda on November 22, Mamata Banerjee’s MPs were there in Parliament, seeking leave to move the no-confidence motion against their former allies. The number that was required for a no-confidence motion to be passed in Parliament was 50. Mamata’s TMC, which though was the UPA II’s largest ally, still had only 19. Before D-day there was much speculation about whether even these 19 would vote. There was the possibility that at least two or three, who had at some point or another publicly fallen out with Mamata would refrain. Names doing the rounds were those of Dinesh Trivedi, former railway minister, who was removed from the post by Mamata when he increased train fare without her consent. And of course, musician Kabir Suman, who has virtually cut-off ties with Mamata after she had declared in a public meeting that it was a mistake to grant him a ticket to contest. The sole Member of Parliament belonging to the SUCI party, which had a tie-up with Mamata’s TMC during the 2009 Parliamentary Elections, was a name that the TMC was banking on but could not be sure of. In this scenario Mamata was also approaching other parties— BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, for instance, made it public that Mamata had sought the BJP’s support. Much was made of that. But I didn’t understand what the hullabaloo was about. Even if it was what has come to be known as an “unholy alliance,” it’s certainly not a new phenomenon. It keeps happening in politics the whole time. Why single out Mamata for it?
The argument was that at home in Bengal, Mamata was wooing the Muslim vote by announcing various sops and secretly extending a hand to parties like the BJP, which are considered right wing and sectarian. At any rate, BJP made it quite clear that they would not side with Mamata. Support of the Left parities, traditional foes of TMC, was also ruled out. Back to D-day, at the time of voting, when Speaker Meira Kumar asked all those who were in favour of bringing such a motion to rise, 21 MPs stood up. TMC’s 18. Kabir Suman, as expected, did not attend. Later speaking to the media, he called the collapse of the no-confidence motion a “slap in the face.” SUCI’s Tapan Mandal refrained from voting. (He later explained that since he did not receive any intimation from his party bosses he could not take a call on the matter. To which TMC MP Sougoto Roy wondered, why he couldn’t make a simple phone call from Delhi to Calcutta to ask.) But there were 3 surprise votes in favour of the motion. They were 3 MPs from Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s party’s BJD. (TMC MPs have expressed their gratitude to these BJD MPs saying that it shows that they are really with the common people.) In Bengal there were mixed reactions. Some called it “a brave decision based on principles.” Others laughed it off as “another embarrassingly haphazard move.” Mamata Banerjee herself posted a long message on Facebook justifying the decision.
Magsaysay award winner and author Mahasweta Devi has now spoken up demanding that exiled author Taslima Nasrin be allowed to return to Calcutta. At a meeting in Calcutta attended by Bengal’s intellectuals this week to discuss various issues, a letter written by Mahasweta was read out. It said, “Being an author why can’t Taslima have the independence to write? It’s the readers who decide what they want to read. Readers haven’t spurned her.” Educationist Sunando Sanyal also spoke on the issue accusing the government of doing nothing to bring her back. Interestingly both Mahasweta Devi and Sunando Sanyal were among Mamata’s Banerjee’s staunches supporters before she came to power.
In a shocking revelation this week residents of Bengal’s populated Howrah district (yes, famous for the Howrah Bridge and the Hoogly River which flows along under it) found that for the past one year they have been drinking untreated, contaminated water. An internal audit of the Howrah Municipal Corporation has reported that water supplied by the Padmapukur Water Works to homes of about 10 lakh people is “unsafe” for consumption and has not been filtered according to norm. Inadequate use of chlorine or bleaching powder to treat the water as well as negligence in procurement of bleaching powder (also simple negligent acts of not using the water cleaning agents even when available) all played a part in this. The doctors of the area responded with shock and claimed that they had noticed a rise in water-borne diseases in the area. The most shocked are residents. Many of them have declared that they will not trust the corporation anymore but will buy bottled water.
For all of us who have lost faith in the state’s medical system (after an n number of horror stories emerging out of our hospitals like the AMRI fire disaster and other negligent acts) here is some heartening news. A team of five doctors at Calcutta’s SSKM Hospital performed a successful three-hour surgery on a 34-year-old farmer named Bhim Maity, who had hit the headlines earlier this week when he was brought into hospital, with his leg stuck to a land plougher. The local newspapers carried pictures of the farmer from a village called Patherpratima, his face frozen in pain with pieces of blade stuck inside one of his legs. Reportedly the farmer slipped and fell and his leg got caught in the power tiller. “The challenge for the doctors was to remove the pieces without amputating his leg. “I have never seen something like this. Four blades of the power tiller penetrated deep into the muscles and bones injuring the thigh, knee, calve and ankle of the leg,” Makhan Lal Saha, who led the surgery, said. Others in the team included Soumen Das, Parthab Bhar, S. Samui and Anusuya Banerjee. The method of the operation was unique. After applying anaesthesia, they decided to switch o the tiller and move it anticlockwise, that is in the opposite direction from when it was moving when the patient’s leg got stuck to it. It worked. According to the Saha, “Somebody had switched off the tiller immediately after the leg got caught.” Which prevented further damage. The team definitely deserves congratulations and accolades for their excellent work.
Signs of the Times
Written behind an auto: nak-kata, kaan-kata…taar bari Kalkata