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The drama in the world is created by the never-ending tussle between the good and the bad, the desirable and the undesirable. Look around  and you will see this everywhere. The blockbuster movies pit the villain against the hero, mythology balances the evil guys against the good guys, and media builds up the haloed ones to contrast against the un-haloed ones. However, good and bad in politics can be a matter of opinion, and we all know that opinions can be shaped and created by the media.

A new media villain in India seems to be Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal. It would be hard for any rational person to deny that many of her actions smack of paranoia, high-handedness, irrationality and dangerous appeasement. This article is not an attempt to defend, justify or minimize any of her wrongs. I am not a Bengali, and have never lived in the state. However, as a concerned Indian, I read and see enough to wonder why the same standard of outrage and scrutiny is not applied to others who are guilty of similar things, or worse? After months of hearing Mamata-bashing, often rightly so, I feel compelled to ask two questions:

Question 1: What is Mamata doing that is so unpalatable or unique? There is a man-made drought in Maharashtra, which in part is due to a criminal waste of public money on an irrigation project that never was. Why does no one talk about Ajit Pawar’s role? In Uttar Pardesh, there have been frequent riots, and a virtual goonda-raj prevails, where nobody seems to be in control. Why is Akhilesh Yadav is not hauled over the coals? Under Sheila Dikshit’s watch, there was the CWG loot, and Delhi’s slide into one of the most unsafe cities in the world. Why is her halo still intact? In Kashmir, Omar Abdullah continues to play the worst kind of us-vs-them politics, where he publicly sheds tears for a youth killed in Baramullah, but does not find time to honour jawans who died defending the nation. Why is he still a darling? Why are the wrongs of so many minimized, while Mamata’s are magnified? Is it because she makes good copy? Or because her perception management is terrible?  Or because she does not fit the image of the posh, anglicized elite that the media so loves to promote? Or, is it simply because she has fallen out with the ruling party? I don’t know the answer, but perhaps you, dear reader, may have a few ideas to share?

Question 2: Is Mamata’s 2 year reign really so bad, that the Left, which ruled the state for over 30 years, looks good in comparison? Or is there an attempt to highlight her failings, in order to sanitize the earlier crime of systematically and willfully destroying an industrialized state? This question particularly preys on my mind, as on a recent visit to Kolkata, an unnamed resident stated, “Didi may be crazy, but the previous bunch were plain evil.” This may be a hyperbolic opinion. However, it is an alternative to the current media discourse, which would almost have us believe that the communist rule in Bengal was far better than the current state of affairs. The facts indicate that the left rule was characterized not only by economic mismanagement, but also by crimes against humanity.

The economic impact is plain for all to see. West Bengal up to the 70’s was one of the largest industrial hubs of Asia, barring Japan. It was well ahead of many others in terms of technology and human capital. When the Left come to power, it threw out the industries and stopped the process of modernization. IBM’s first office in Southern Asia in the 60s was in Camac Street, but it was forced out, as computers were considered anti-labour. The real estate sector was ruined by the urban land ceiling and rent control acts. The factories were devastated by constant strikes and power shortages. The education system was politicized and radicalized. [1]These are just a few examples of actions, which ensured that new investments and innovations were crippled. Eventually, all multinationals and entrepreneurs relocated to Mumbai, Bangalore, Gurgaon,  and other places, leaving behind sick mills, militant labour unions and unemployment.

The economic woes of West Bengal have been documented, but the crimes against humanity are a less known facet. For instance, did you know that the left rule in Bengal began and ended with massacres? In the beginning, there was the Marichjhapi massacre of 1979. It started with the forceful eviction of Dalit refuges from East Pakistan, who had settled in Marichjapi, an island in the Sundarbans. When the settlers resisted the move, the government imposed economic sanctions and ordered police to cordon off the island. Then, as people tried to swim across to other islands, they were shot at. As a result, many people (possibly thousands) died due to starvation, exhaustion and police firing.  [2],[3]

At the end of the Left rule, there was the Nandigram violence of 2007, where armed police were unleashed on people protesting against the government’s plan to forcefully acquire10,000 acres of land for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) . According to official reports, 14 villagers were killed and over 200 injured due to police firing. Unofficial sources list may more deaths, which were caused by CPM cadres.[4]

In addition to these cases, there was the regular reign of terror unleashed by Left party cadres to enforce their writ over helpless village folk and dissenters. [5] The courts are still clogged with pending murder cases, as families seek justice for hundreds of people who have vanished without a trace. [6]

Now, the media gushes as the same people mobilize mass rallies to protest against the death of a young student in police custody. While the incident is horrific and public outrage is necessary, the fact that the Left is leading the movement is ironic, and a little obscene.

This article is an attempt to drive home one fundamental point: As we critique Mamata Banerjee for her “crazy” antics, let us not delude ourselves about the level of damage caused by the Left, the burden of which is now being borne by a whole state in general and by Mamata’s government in particular. I believe unequivocally that two wrongs DO NOT make a right. However, I also believe that highlighting one wrong and hiding or glossing over others, do not make a right either. If we pride ourselves in calling a spade a spade, let’s do it across the board and not indulge in selective outrage.

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21 thoughts on “Why is Mamata di the new media villian?

    • some people seem to have forgotten the 1970s and the Sai bari murder when the house of a ‘jotedar’ was burned with the inmates – not unlike the best bakery case – except that the crime was that he was the land owner as per the law and they had ‘exploited’ share croppers – the same share croppers that were then displaced and shot at Nandigram years later.

  1. My only comment is, as you have said yourself, you have never lived in Bengal. I and many many other like me know and see what is going on firsthand. And comparing to one wrong and justifying another is a logical fallacy. You are right 2 years is not enough to show results, but is enough to show promise and hope of getting a result. Can even the staunchest supporter of Mamata provide any proff that any sort of long term vision or planning has been put in place for getting Bengal in the right path ? Her industrial policy or lack of it has resulted in a total stalemate, not a single new industry has come to the state in last 2 years. Local promoters and leaders are running amock. Ask any small businessman in Bengal and they will tell you the reality and the difference with the past government. Corruption was there earlier too, but it was disciplined and regulated corruption and the people learned to live with it and knew how much to give to whom and when to get the results. The situation is totally out of control now; with every local goon boasting of their allegiance to Didi and demanding money.

    • 1.I may not have lived in the state, but as a Bengali bahu,I have an extensive network of family & friends who have lived and worked there (both in the government & private sector). So I am not a stranger to Bengal in that sense.The alternative stories that I have heard through the years made me take up this topic in the first place.
      2.If you feel that I have justfied Mamata’s wrongs in any way, then you have missed the crux of my argument.
      3.After reading your point of view, as a matter of curiousity, may I ask if you will vote for the Left as an alternative to Mamata?

      • the solution to prithwi is for the tmc to organise things better so that when a house is being built the local mastan can give a proper reciept for the supplies of materials paid for and not supplied and jobs in schools and colleges are given with applications recommended with an undertaking of paying part of the salary and all future increases to the party

  2. I am not a supporter of either of the parties, but to answer your question- yes I will vote for left if it comes to choosing only between the two of them. This is why
    1. Under left the corruption was systemic and disciplined and so if you had no other choice but to pay for your service you knew to whom to pay and how much and things got done. I hate to put this rationale out as it seems that we have all resigned to our fate to live with corruption, but I am just answering your hypothetical question of choice between the two.

    2. Although the industrial policies under left (read Jyoti basu) literally killed Bengal, it did not bring the industries to a total standstill. Mamata’s ludicrous policy has resulted in a total stalemate for new investments in Bengal. And she is too egoistic to revisit her own policy (or lack of it) and make corrections.

    3. Left is an ideology like it or not. And there have an educated core leadership team and the power does not rest with one person. ‘Mamata’ on the other hand has become synonymous with her party ( notice you did not ask Left vs Trinamool). She is the ideology, the first and last word in her party. This absolute power is unhealthy and not fruitful for a democratic environment. We are seeing the effects of this centralized leadership time and again where nobody else other than her can take even simple administrative decisions without her involvement.

    4. Lastly, as a person I do not like her. She is disruptive, avoids any sort of healthy debate which is essential part of a democracy, lacks flexibility to learn from mistakes, lacks administrative capability and vision to lead and is too impulsive for a leader. And I hold her personally responsible and accountable for all the corruption and bribery that is happening across her party.

    • Yes, left is an ideology as we see it in China. The basic idea is to suppress voices whenever they rise against you. An excellent way of protesting is to bodily harm ministers of the state and then go into a stage of denial! The party advocates unleashing of terror by the student bodies and you people approve of them! Excellent!!

      • @souvik: that is not left ideology. that is just due to absolute power- absolute power is toxic. CPIM didn’t support what was done by SFI members in Delhi.. CPIM authority along with other Left parties condemned the incident almost immediately. On the other hand if you see TMC authorities are trying to suppress the fact that TMCP members attacked and destroyed Presidency college laboratory. We need no politics in these sensitive issues. We need them to be more transparent.

  3. so here it is, left is sofisticated killer with proper idology. so if we get killed sytemmatically and slowly, it is beter than instanst killing! what’s a logic. We need little hapzard system, which is will be exposed quickly and the get corrected instead of Left’s sofisticated systemic and hidden sucking, although look very nice from outside

    • If you ask any Iraqi if they would prefer living under the ‘dictatorship’ of Saddam or under the hallow of ‘democracy’ bestowed by America and the chaos associated with it , you know what the answer will be. Common people do not care much about the ideologies, they want peace and stability and just being able to carry on their normal day to day lives without disruption.

  4. “For instance, did you know that the left rule in Bengal began and ended with massacres?”

    Absolutely, and there were numerous massacres, murders, rapes and other forms of violence in between perpetrated by cadres and condoned by the leadership. Just two examples
    (1) Daylight murder (burning alive) of 16 Anandamargis on Bijon Setu in Kolkata in 1982 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bijon_Setu_massacre)
    (2) The Bantala rape case where the brutality of the assault is comparable to (or even worse than) the recent Delhi rape case in the moving bus (http://www.indiarightsonline.com/Sabrang/gender.nsf/9ad8c95d52b7d568e5256abc00320f4c/cb09c9cd3a07c784e5256cee003557cf?OpenDocument), but which was covered up and to which Jyoti Basu is supposed to have commented ‘Ae rokom to kotoi hoye (Such incidents are very common)’.

  5. I must admit the level of research you have done. Assuming you to not to be associated with Bengal from morichjhanpi days, I can safely say that you have certain illusions about Mamata. Like it or not, very often it has been proven beyond the fact that a corrupt politician is better than the inept ones. A corrupt politician very often need to perform very well to keep fueling his/her corrupt income.

    At this moment we need to learn that media plays a very important role in our life, a under-pleasant persona with no credit to her kitty cant do any good. At least if we bring the the leftist idiots, they would have been more learned at least on the fact that they are removable (coming from past experience).

    The only plus I get to see is that Mamata is not a corrupt lady (yet), but frankly speaking, thats just not good enough to be a leader of bengal, we are not UP having the history of deal with corrupt people.

  6. wrong. 1. The industrial condition of west bengal got worse after 1977 due to the Central Government policy (sulko-mashul niti) which was extremely unjustified for Bengal. 2. left has a politics. a consistent politics unlike any other party in India. they have made it clear that they will not under any circumstance go with BJP which is a communal threat in India. and they can only support congress led govt under some common agreement (CMP). and they maintain it. any other party will go with congress or BJP according to their need. Mamata is not an exception.Mamata has no politics other than opposing Lefts 3. one of the causes of Bengal’s distress after 70’s is that the huge inflow of refugees from east bengal. that caused a rise in poverty. in 1970’s the head count ratio of people under BPL was 70%. in 2004 it decreased to around 26%. no other state in India could do that in this span of time. most of the states reduced around 15% where as Bengal- almost 40%. 5. only in 3 states in India went through proper land reform movement. Kerala, Bengal and Tripura. it was done with extreme care in Bengal. that was a great achievement of the Lefts. 6. lefts made the panchayat system in Bengal better than any other state-that’s why Rajib Gandhi said the panchayat system in west Bengal was a model for other states. I agree that the structure have some problems due to corruption. but we should remind that Lefts made the structure and this is the first time after 1977 this structure is demolished by Mamata Banerjee. 7. when Lefts went for industrialization Mamata made a total negative movement and as a result the poor farmers who gave their lands in Singur have not received anything- neither the land back nor the industry. 8. Lefts know to apologize for their bad works but Mamata haven’t learned to apologize.

  7. Any constructive work begins at the (unfortunately I have to use the cliched word here) “grassroots”! And, if the name of a party has anything to convey, this (constructive work) was/is expected of the “Trinamool” party. Isn’t it? Now, my understanding of “grassroots level work” is that a well trained (and well organized) group of cadres start working for the uplift of the people who really represent the grassroots. Need I say that these grassroots people don’t live in the villas of Salt Lake or Ballygunge or elsewhere in W.Bengal? They are the slum dwellers of Kolkata, the landless peasants in the villages, the exploited tribal people in the mining belts or the tea estates and so on. May I – as a Bengali who lives outside of Bengal and visits Kolkata once in two years roughly – now politely ask, what our self-proclaimed “grass root party cadres” or for that matter their political mentors are doing (or have done) to bring out the grassroots people out of their misery? Thereby, I mean not only the economical misery but also other various forms of miseries stemming from lack of education, ingrained superstitions (this pujo today, that pujo the other day, sha(n)kha sindoor, poti param debota, witchcraft …), the abuse of alcohol or from the lowly treatment of the womenfolk. Does TMC have such a well trained and well meaning youth force? If not then are they trying to build one? If the answer is still “No” then I must say that I am immensely disappointed. What big deal is then a “Poriborton”?

  8. When left came power 67% population was under BPL. When left left it was 19%. The industries WB had was manily based on jute wich lost it’s global market to polymers. Industrialists are not angles.

  9. You article drives in the point bang on. I have lived in Kolkata for a few years and these were enough for me to see how disruptive the state of affairs was. Thought at the time the leadership was all educated and elite it drove Bengal away from its intellectual as well as industrial advancement. Yes TMC might not be doing quite a few wrongs but Left certainly has no right to morally criticize those. Moreover what I like about Mamata is that there are no pretenses. This is what you have and this is what you get. She is who she is that makes it easy for the media to caricature her and not the likes of Ajit Power because of whom thousands go hungry.

  10. In most of the comments, I see comparisons are being made between what is happening now and what has happened earlier! How does that approach help us? I, like many, believe that lust for power and a blind [antiquated] theory-based political approach did them in. But in my opinion, the point is not whether what the left did was right or wrong. The point is, whether the TMC has an agenda for removing the social evils at the grass root level (even if CPM had not done that). Reminds me about a pre-election argument I had with my childhood friends during my visit to Kolkata about two years ago (of course accompanied with tea and hot shingaras). One of them said “who cares whether they (TMC) have an agenda for the poor or not. A party has been looting us for the last 25 years or so (assuming that initially the left rulers were not so bad), so now let the others loot. Looting should not be the monopoly of one party only!” This friend is a well educated, professionally successful engineer with loads of experience. I understood he was saying that out of desperation. But is that really any solution? I would really be grateful to have other readers’ inputs on the constructive policies of TMC.

  11. CPM destroyed education in WB. They also destroyed productivity by approving party work at work place, and finally to stay in power they created a huge goon network (comrades) during those days of CPM raj. Mamta protested anything CPM did last three decades. Then she was in Congress with Subrata & other hooligans. She learned only one thing during her long slogan yelling political career is just to oppose. She is not corrupt like most other politicians, but she does not know how to govern. She has really fared poorly as Railway minister. A very hard headed, and whimsical personality ( almost eccentric) makes her do all the wrong things she is doing. Another thing she has never learned is, when to shut up. And like all the party leaders in WB, she is also kept in power by goons. These parties maintain a goon cadre, and they are self sustained. Party doesn’t have to pay them anything directly. These goon squads get their share of wealth by extorting public and businesses. And the extortion continues during pujas or many other social occasions ( Bengal has them almost every month). Party helps them keep out of jail to have a free hand in whatever they want to do by rendering police force totally ineffective. Those goons have no party affiliation. They switched loyalty when commies lost power, and some of them even before, when they could gauge the wind.
    It is sad to see the State slipping from # 2 in education, and #2 in industry in last 50 years. And I predict more decline of jobs since no industry is going to come to WB, for many years after Mamta drove Tatas out of Singur just for her personal ambitions.

  12. Nobody is hiding Left’s fallout’s in their more than three decade rule. Had it been the case they would not have been ousted from power ever. Mamata posed to be an alternative to the Left but certainly not the best one to bank upon. To undo the damage done by the left what Bengal needed was a pragmatic, level headed leader who would have carried her task with a sound understanding of the economic ground realities and minimum fuss. In Mamata we got a leader who is paranoid, unapologetic, hollow populist and more importantly ‘more left than the left itself’. You need not be anglicised, sophisticated to be a media darling, the rustic charm( Read Anna Hazare) works well too but making bizzare and idiotic statements at the drop of the hat( rapes linked to rising population, the out of the world ‘conspiracy theories’ to kill her or malign her Government) doesn’t serve the purpose either. It is beyond doubt that the Left is a spent force in Bengal today but Mamata is still hell bent on consuming all her energies in bashing her predecessor than to work upon on some constructive solutions towards the problems that the state face.

  13. “Or because she does not fit the image of the posh, anglicized elite that the media so loves to promote?” Its not about being posh anglicized elite. But remember she is a leader of 9 crore people, who have voted her to power expecting change. Its her responsibility to behave like a leader and uphold peoples trust, which she doesn’t seem to be doing. You can’t be blaming blaming the CPI, congress, and the general public of being moist. Remember how she accused a school girl of being a maoist on television. It doesn’t help. Yes there is something called perception management, when one represents a state and its people. And about other politicians in our country, just because some are inept doesn’t absolve didi of her doings. She is lucky that she gets media attention, she needs to use it for good. A leader stands tall above all others. I still respect her for her ability to mobilize masses and she alone brought the 30 year old left rule to an end. She has what it takes to change the fate of a state and its people for good. However to be among great leaders, one needs to do it.

  14. Are you serious?

    I am surprised you would quasi-sympathise with someone, who has outrageous opinions on women, rape, and women’s rights. Do you even follow the news? Have you seen what she has to say?

    If the media is making a mockery of her, so be it. Why play ‘Holier than thou’?

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