The Indian state of West Bengal, which will soon witness one year since the fall of the Communist government after thirty-four years of its unchallenged reign, is in a desperate situation. The government led by Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress Party and its intrusion into the daily lives of the common citizen is becoming increasingly alarming, if not dangerous.
On May 13, 2011 with the loss of the Communists in the state elections, Mamata Banerjee entered history as the political leader who single-handedly brought down the longest-serving democratically elected Communist government in the world. In the years preceding its downfall, the Left Front government earned the wrath of both the rural population as well as Calcutta-based intellectuals and middle classes with forceful land acquisition policies in Nandigram and Singur, violent repression of all those who opposed them, and their nonchalant dismissals of the acuteness of the situation.
The successor government of Mamata Banerjee thus inherited not just a state that was in dire economic straits but also an electorate, fed up with the arrogance of the Communists, that had high expectations of her. In sharp contrast to the bhadrolok (Bengali for gentlemen) politicians that filled the higher ranks of the CPI(M), Banerjee’s origins are rather humble with a lower middle class upbringing in South Calcutta. Her populist election slogan of ma, mati, manush (“mother, motherland and the people”) and calling for poriborton (meaning, change) won over most hearts and a new positive era seemed to have dawned on West Bengal. Nearly a year later, the same people that gave their mandate in her favour feel disillusioned, enraged and betrayed.
Violence and crime have increased on the streets of Calcutta, which had otherwise enjoyed a reputation as a safe city in comparison to New Delhi and Mumbai. Murders of Communist cadres and violence against supporters have become regular. Business groups are not investing in the state and no respite is in view from the economic distress that the state has found itself in after more than three decades of Left rule. Lumpen elements of her party openly harass and threaten people who dare criticize the government, terming them “Communist sympathizers”.
Her government has banned English newspapers ↑ from the state-funded libraries of West Bengal and prescribed a set of pro-government newspapers for the libraries to buy. In an act of post-communist sanitization, she has decided to ban Marx and Engels ↑ from history textbooks. While Time ↑ magazine placed her in its 2012 list of 100 most influential people in the world, as a strong woman from the grassroots who challenged the patriarchy in Indian politics, her sympathy towards her own gender remains ambiguous. She termed the alleged rape of a 25-year-old woman in Kolkata a “Communist conspiracy” and transferred Damayanti Sen ↑ , the joint commissioner of police, a woman, who refused to agree with her.
The independent thinking citizen with no political affiliation has nowhere now to turn. Not even to the comfort of political cartoons ↑ , which Banerjee has banned lately. The arrest of Dr. Ambikesh Mahapatra ↑ , professor of chemistry of Jadavpur University, for sharing her cartoons, outraged not just Bengal but also India. It later turned out that the Dr Mahapatra, who is the assistant secretary of his housing society, had crossed swords with the supply contractors for building materials of a Trinamool-backed syndicate, thereby earning the wrath of the party goons. Her government even arrested molecular biologist Partho Sarothi Ray ↑ for protesting the eviction of slum dwellers in east Calcutta. All this along with a completely laughable social boycott of the Communists ↑, have reversed her fortunes, now earning her the ire of the Bengali middle class.
It is not surprising that in an interview to the NDTV she identified the English-educated Bengali middle class as her “class enemy” ↑ . In her opinion, this elitist section of the society is highly contemptuous of her lower middle class background and therefore ever-critical of her and her government. In her paranoia and rising intolerance of public opinion, she sadly forgets that it was the same urban middle class that voted her in, alongside impoverished peasants from the countryside. All of them yearned for change, and change she certainly has delivered – Bengal’s transition is from the mismanagement of a vanguard party to the misrule of the lumpenproletariat.