By Sourodipto Sanyal Feb. 07, 2019
Mamata Banerjee had come to power on the plank of “poriborton” (change). But at least in the department of political gangsterism, Trinamool Congress follows the way the Left carved. Ask any person from Bengal who follows politics and they’ll tell you, “CPI-M goons have shifted to Trinamool Congress.”
On February 3, Mamata Banerjee activated her street-fighter mode again after eight years – the same mode which had successfully put the Communist Party of India- Marxist on a ventilator in 2011, after 34 years at the helm.
Didi began her “Save the Constitution” dharna at 9 pm on Monday along with Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar and other important leaders of the Trinamool Congress. It was to protest the actions of 40-odd CBI officials who landed up outside Rajeev Kumar’s doorstep on the same day. At least five of them were later detained by the Kolkata police. The CBI considers Kumar a “potential accused” who was involved in burying evidence related to the Saradha chit fund and Rose Valley scam, the two major ponzi schemes which had rocked West Bengal in 2013. He headed the special investigation team which probed the scams. Banerjee accused the CBI of being hand-in-glove with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to organise a coup in the state.
After the apex court ruled on February 5 that Rajeev Kumar could be questioned but not arrested, Didi called off the dharna and dubbed the court order a “victory for democracy”. Earlier, she has also accused the BJP of being a “fascist” regime and of indulging in gunda gardi. While the CM’s accusations might be true, is Mamata Banerjee’s brand of politics free from Didigiri?
On the same day that the dharna unfolded at Metro Channel in Kolkata, a mega rally was held by the CPI-M at the Brigade Parade Ground, the venue at which Banerjee’s United India rally was held on January 19. The mainstream media, distracted by the Mamata vs CBI showdown, could not afford the CPI-M much screen time. But the rally, a show of Left strength ahead of Lok Sabha polls, drew massive crowds. If Kolkata-based Twitter user @chhuti_is is to be believed, you couldn’t see the “tail end” of the rally, what you needed was a “drone view” to understand its success.
The rally, the Left supporters believe, was proof that West Bengal refused to give up on its almost two-century old working-class dream espoused by a bearded German man, who instead of looking for a stable job wrote books funded by his friend’s money to inspire revolution. People turned up in lakhs to hear communist leaders like Sitaram Yechury (CPM), Mohammad Salim (CPM), Dipankar Bhattacharya (CPI-ML).
While the CM’s accusations might be true, is Mamata Banerjee’s brand of politics free from Didigiri?
Every person I spoke to at the rally was convinced that Mamata Banerjee was as much a threat to Indian democracy as Narendra Modi and the BJP. But the worst criticism was reserved for “Mamata’s goondas”. SK Abdul Razzaq, a 45-year-old Communist Party of India worker, said that he wasn’t allowed to contest the 2018 Panchayat elections from a village in a district in 24 North Parganas. “Bombs were thrown at me. The house of those who voted were destroyed.”
Another CPI-M worker Pallabh Das, who had come all the way from Bardhaman, which is 100-odd kilometres from Kolkata, spoke about how Trinamool workers prevented a free and fair election. “During the panchayat elections, Trinamool workers did not allow us to vote. If voting is fair, the TMC will go back to where they were eight years ago.”
And though supporters of the rival party, there is no reason to disbelieve them. In the 2018 panchayat elections, Trinamool Congress created a record when more than 34 per cent of its candidates won seats uncontested. There were widespread reports of Trinamool Congress workers allegedly indulging in violence to prevent opposition candidates from contesting elections. Even journalists and a veteran CPM politician were not spared. At least 29 people had been killed in the poll violence.
Some from the Trinamool camp have also been at the receiving end of Banerjee’s wrath for criticising excesses of the West Bengal government. When Subhojit Das, a 21-year-old student from the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad protested on Facebook against Banerjee’s response to the alleged killing of a 22-year-old activist from the Students’ Federation of India by Kolkata police personnel in 2013, he was immediately shown the door.
Such has been the fear instilled by TMC workers that opposition parties – the CPI-M, BJP, and the Congress – have urged the Election Commission to ensure that central police forces are directly under the control of an Election Commission observer and not the state police forces.
But only the colour and the symbol of the flags changed, as lawlessness to win elections rages on.
The fiery didi had come to power in 2011 on the plank of “poriborton” (change). Promising all that was wrong during the left’s tenure would not be repeated in the future ever again. But at least in the department of political gangsterism to ensure electoral victory, Trinamool Congress has shown the way exactly how the left did. Ask any person from Bengal who follows politics and they’ll tell you, “CPI(M) goons have shifted to the Trinamool.”
Just a month before Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress had captured power in 2011, she had led a two-hour rally to protest the murder of a TMC worker by a “CPM-supported goon”. She herself has been a victim of such violence. During a protest in 1990, Didi was attacked by a CPI-M’s youth wing worker and battled for life in a hospital for a month.
However, the workers of her Trinamool Congress are not different from their CPI-M counterparts. Amidst the cacophony of the panchayat elections, Trinamool Congress workers had allegedly locked up a CPI-M leader and his wife inside their house and burnt them alive.
To counter the aggressive politics of BJP, you need a strong leader like Mamata Banerjee. But to arm twist the public is not the change the people in Bengal voted for. Bengalis had voted for her with the hope that the political violence which had made Bengal as infamous as the roshogolla has made it famous, would end.
But only the colour and the symbol of the flags changed, as lawlessness to win elections rages on. Earlier, violence took place under the banner of the red flag with a hammer and a sickle promising the working-class dream. Now, it is in the name of the tricolour with two flowers sprouting up right at the middle, mocking the slogan of “maa, mati, manush”.
Sourodipto Sanyal is a Bengali journalist and writer who has lived almost his entire life since childhood in the urban disaster now called Gurugram. Very few things fascinate him as much as Indian politics.