Mamata kindles India’s hope


“Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accompanied by with artists, participates in a painting programme organised as part of a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR), in Kolkata on Jan 28, 2020.” PHOTO/

It was a crucial make-or-break vote that P.V. Narasimha Rao faced when Mamata Banerjee was ushered in in a wheelchair and helped to her seat in the packed and tense Lok Sabha. From the press gallery above, one could see her shaking with spasm under the woollen blanket that wrapped her. The fever from malaria ran high and she struggled to control waves of rigour that usually come with the affliction. Eventually, Rao won the trust vote with the narrowest of margins. She did her duty by the Congress party and contributed in her way to the early economic reforms, which usually Rao and Manmohan Singh are credited with.

Now, the tycoons her vote had helped become rich with the inauguration of India’s top-down neoliberal policies were switching sides. Their money power was transferred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party. All the loot one could imagine was thrown into the humongous effort to dislodge Mamata Banerjee. She though was confidently plotting the fight back for a third consecutive term as chief minister of West Bengal. Her secular resolve and populist economic priorities can be gleaned from her modest cottage surrounded by lower-middle-class homes and shanties in a nondescript Kolkata district. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) she set up was itself a critique of the Congress, which had nurtured her as a youth leader but was beginning to be associated with wealth and pelf.

Trinamool means ‘grassroots’ in Bangla, the name of her party suggesting her plain thoughts about her parent group, which she had left with a mission. It was May 2, when the results came in, the same day as Satyajit Ray’s birth centenary someone pointed out. Bengal has been shaped by Ray, Nazrul Islam and Tagore, by Vivekanand and Kali worship. For her to open her account in West Bengal her worldview had to challenge also the invincible communist hegemony, much of it secured under Jyoti Basu’s watch. He had steered the state for most of the three decades of Left Front rule since 1977, a handy reward for steadfastly fighting Indira Gandhi’s emergency.

After Basu retired citing age, the party’s fortunes quickly melded with the economic chaos reigning in India. The party evicted small peasants from fields to make space for industry, a lesson they erroneously believed could be bodily lifted from China. If Nandigram and Singur were what the comrades saw as aspects of “socialism with Bengali characteristics”, the move boomeranged, and Ms Banerjee pounced on the opportunity.

Dawn for more

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