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. 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. ,
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.
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.  The courts are still clogged with pending murder cases, as families seek justice for hundreds of people who have vanished without a trace. 
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.