Mamata Banerjee more guilty of encouraging the RSS

While Mamata Banerjee is being accused by the BJP with minority appeasement, in reality, she is more responsible for the growth of the RSS and the BJP in West Bengal

Photo by Arun Sharma/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Arun Sharma/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Ajit Sahi

At the start of this century when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was India’s Prime Minister and Mamata Banerjee was his Railway Minister — yes, Mamata once strongly supported the RSS and BJP — violence broke out in parts of West Bengal that was then ruled by the Left Front government with Chief Minister Jyoti Basu at the helm.

Banerjee launched an all-out offensive against Basu's government and demanded President’s Rule in the state. For weeks the NDA government in New Delhi, of which she was a part, kept issuing threats to the Left Front government, keeping the front pages of the newspapers busy. NDA convener and India’s then Defence Minister, George Fernandes, travelled to West Bengal in September 2000 on the orders of no less than the Prime Minister. After an “on-the-spot assessment” Fernandes told reporters that the “entire democratic apparatus [in the state] has collapsed.”

Less than two months later, in November 2000, Jyoti Basu, tiring of old age, handed over the chief ministership to Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. Mamata went after Bhattacharya immediately. Two more months later, on January 4, 2001, 11 workers of Trinamool Congress were allegedly burnt to death in Midnapore disrict.

Mamata launched a massive agitation against the state’s Left Front government, once again demanding the imposition of President’s Rule. Several members of the NDA including BJP MP Vijay Goel (now in relative cold storage despite being a minister) and Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam (who later switched over to the Congress and today sings secular lullabies) also toured West Bengal and recommended that the state government be dismissed. Here’s what Goel said: "The law and order mechanism has totally failed.” Nirupam added: “There is total terror in the state. Under such circumstances, only solution is to impose President's rule.”

But Vajpayee flinched at the thought of dismissing a legitimately elected government, and this angered Mamata. So, when the Tehelka sting operation broke in March 2001, she quickly parted from the NDA. Two months later, Assembly elections were held in West Bengal as per schedule, bringing the Left Front back to another majority. Mamata’s party, in a shoddy alliance with the Congress, came a distant second. All her agitation against the Left Front died, at least for the time being.

For all those years that Mamata was fraternising with the BJP, she never objected to the RSS’s anti-Muslim communalism that was spreading its tentacles across West Bengal. On the contrary, she and her Trinamool Congress were hand-in-glove with the BJP-RSS cadres -- whom she now condemns and who are now targeting both her party and her government.

In fact, she never quite overcame her fascination for the BJP and rejoined Vajpayee’s cabinet in January 2004, just weeks before Lok Sabha elections, fooled, like most people, into thinking that the NDA was going to return to power. It did not. Instead, Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister. Mamata was left in the cold once again.

An out-and-out opportunist, like any other Indian politician, she began inching closer, yet again, to the Congress party, after the latter won power at the Centre in 2004. But she couldn’t formally marry the Congress because the Left Front was a key supporter of the UPA government. (She lost yet another Assembly election in 2006 which Bhattacharya won handsomely for the Left Front.)

Her opportunity came two years later when the Left Front broke away from the UPA on the issue of Manmohan Singh’s nuclear deal with the US. She quickly tied up with the Congress formally before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

The alliance struck pay dirt winning big. She became the Railway Minister in Manmohan Singh’s second government. Again, she started the same pressure tactics against the Left Front government. Already, during 2006 and 2007, the Left Front of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had badly mishandled the Singur and the Nandigram agitations and handed political leverage to Mamata on a platter.

In the 2011 Assembly elections, luck favoured her and she became chief minister, ending the Left Front’s three-decade rule. The next year, she quit UPA too, and now pretends to be at a distance from both the BJP and the Congress.

If there is one politician in West Bengal who is single-handedly responsible for allowing the RSS-BJP to become a huge fighting force there, it is Mamata Banerjee. The “victim” brand of politics that Mamata perfected is now being used by the BJP to the hilt against her rule. Mamata had already vitiated social relations in West Bengal for at least the last two decades, especially since she quit the Congress in 1997 and launched her Trinamool Congress party.

Her preferred form of conducting politics has been violence. Although the Left Front cadres, too, had historically been prone to serial violence, the critical difference between the Left Front and Mamata was that the Left Front never allowed the RSS-BJP to grow deep roots in the state. In her thirst for power, Mamata not only allowed that but actively welcomed the RSS-BJP to spread cancerously across West Bengal. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

The real story is not that Mamata has encouraged Islamic fundamentalism in West Bengal. The real story is that Mamata encouraged Hindu fundamentalism in West Bengal. And it is now threatening to swallow her up.

The views expressed in the above opinion piece are the author’s own.

(The author is a journalist based in Mumbai/Delhi and has just returned from Bashirhat in West Bengal)

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Published: 10 Jul 2017, 2:00 PM