Why Mamata Banerjee cannot stop a possible bloodbath in Bengal
Despite enjoying tremendous goodwill, Mamata Banerjee paradoxically is unable to contain the BJP in the state. The policy of countering aggression with violence is turning out to be counterproductive
West Bengal Government’s cash transfer programme for school going girls in the age group of 13 to 18 – an annual scholarship of ₹500 and a one-time grant of ₹25,000 on attaining the age of 18 years provided the girls are not married by then—has been near universal.
Any girl in the stipulated age group attending school and whose parents’ annual family income does not exceed ₹1,20,000 are eligible for the benefit. By using a certification process which is simple but demands political connectivity – only elected representatives can certify the income – the Trinamool Congress extended its support among wider sections of people.
Yet another scheme worth noting is called Sabooj Sathi – under which bicycles are distributed to all students studying in classes VIII to XII in government or government aided schools. The process of implementation is fully digitised and transparent. Any person interested in checking the records of distribution can do it online.
Distribution of bicycles among students is not new or novel. This has been a popular scheme in several states and also with the earlier Left Front Government in West Bengal. But what made the present government’s programme distinct is the universal implementation of the scheme.
All other state governments distributed bicycles to select, target groups of students. Universalisation of the programme not only enhanced the visibility of the programme manifold but also, as in the case of PDS, set a mechanism of social monitoring rolling, which in turn reduced the possibility of corruption and other functional inefficiencies to a great extent.
The impression about the state government being effective has also gained ground due to the Chief Minister’s own style of functioning, namely arranging administrative meetings in the districts, and making instant announcements about programmes
Besides the directly pro-poor programmes, the state government has been investing hugely on infrastructure – construction of roads and different government buildings, like schools, hospitals, farmers’ market, and so on. It has also greatly expanded the number of beneficiaries under the housing program. All these programmes have earned the state government goodwill and are acknowledged for their tremendous vote harvesting potential.
However, these successes have vastly overshadowed the huge neglect of other sectors, namely education, health and employment generation. The state of education is literally in a conundrum; primary healthcare is as fragile as almost being non-existent or dead; there has been rampant corruption in MGNREGA.
And still the state government has been enjoying massive support. Any visitor can hear people say “Onekka jhocche – a lot of work is being done –the government works”. The impression about the state government being effective has also gained ground due to the Chief Minister’s own style of functioning, namely arranging administrative meetings in the districts, and making instant announcements about programmes. This is in sharp contrast to the Left Front’s inertia during the last decade of its three-and-half decade rule. Mamata Banerjee appears hyper-active in comparison.
By organising Ram Navami – in response to BJP’s terrible move of turning the event into a brutal and communal show of aggression – the Trinamool Congress has in fact legitimised BJP’s policy of mixing religion with politics. Groups inclined towards Hindu assertion and an anti-Muslim agenda, who were not so far able to speak their minds, are now chanting “Jai SriRam” in the state with added vigour
No society however exists without conflicting views and opposition. People, who have been freed from hunger, aspire for more which the Government does not know how to meet. While the natural timidity of the people does not allow them to give free vent to their frustration and unhappiness at rampant corruption by local level leaders, the dissatisfaction seeks and gets other outlets.
This is what has offered the BJP a perfect context to make substantial inroadswhere BJP never dreamt of making its presence felt. Partly because of their own weaknesses and partly because of their inability to stand up to the sustained assault of Trinamool Congress, Left parties, which could have acted as a counter force, appear to have disappeared from the ground.
People seem to have lost faith on the Left’s ability to fight the Trinamool and give protection to the section which has been facing TMC’s attacks. In contrast, BJP has been aggressive and its state president’s call for “Maarer badale maar – an eye for an eye–sends out a reassuring message to the weak and the vulnerable, especially the youth.
By organising Ram Navami – in response to BJP’s terrible move of turning the event into a brutal and communal show of aggression – the Trinamool Congress has in fact legitimised BJP’s policy of mixing religion with politics. Groups inclined towards Hindu assertion and an anti-Muslim agenda, who were not so far able to speak their minds, are now chanting “Jai SriRam” in the state with added vigour.
Trinamool’s embarrassing publicly pronounced goal of making panchayats free of all opposition is a paranoid response to the rising discontent.
Hindu communalism had never disappeared from West Bengal. But political movements and parties in earlier decades had managed to keep the demon in the bottle. Mamata Banerjee’s politics has uncorked the bottle, first by adopting an explicit pro-Muslim posture, which did not help Muslims in any substantial manner but antagonised the Hindus, and then by giving party-workers a free hand to indulge in rampant corruption, unleashing attacks to subdue discontent and dissent, and ruining the democratic opposition space from the political arena.
No, she does not have the power to put the demon back into the bottle. Only a saner political formation based on clear headed thinking can save the state from a bloodbath that looks certain at this point.
The author, a researcher, writer and commentator, works with Pratichi Trust, set up by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen
- West Bengal
- Mamata Banerjee
- Trinamool Congress
- Ram Navami procession
- politics of Lord Ram
- West Bengal panchayat elections
- politics with religion
- pro-poor programmes
- Left Front Government in West Bengal
- cash transfer scheme
- Distribution of bicycles