By Kalyani Shankar
Of late the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Her honeymoon with the press seems to be short. Today she is facing criticism for her unexplainable actions like arresting an academic for a cartoon depicting her in a bad light or asking her party men not marry in a CPI(M) family or painting the city blue. Every day a new thing comes up exposing her intolerance. In short the euphoria of “Parivarthan” is slowly evaporating in the state over the past few months giving way to disappointment.
Mamata has become a phenomenon after her party Trinamool Congress won a landslide victory last May in the Assembly polls. For a leader who has created history by getting rid of the Left Front after 34 years with tremendous goodwill and a massive majority, criticism has started too soon. There was a time when the CPI(M) used to blame the media for being partial to Mamata and giving publicity. Today she is on the other side of the fence. This could be because she is under the microscopic scrutiny of the media as well as the people who had given such a massive mandate. Those who voted for her hoped that her administration would be open and forward looking. Instead she has concentrated all powers in herself holding as many as nine portfolios and the decision making is getting more difficult as only she has the final word.
Why is the media -savvy Mamata Banerjee getting brickbats instead of bouquets even before the honeymoon period is over? Is it because of too much expectations and too little action? Or is it because the inexperienced chief minister is unable to deliver? Or is it because she is taking the people who supported her for granted.
First of all, the chief minister has not got out of her earlier role of a confrontationist leader. It worked when she was in opposition but it won’t work when she is the ruler. She must know that she has to wear different caps for these two different roles. Instead her detractors fear that she seems to have donned the cap of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who went around saying “Off with his head” to whoever she did not like.
Secondly she must decentralize the decision making so that decisions are taken fast. She has chosen an excellent team but right now, everything waits for her to make up her mind. She should also shed some of the portfolios so that she may find more time to concentrate on broader policy matters.
Thirdly Mamata should realize that it is the democracy, which has put her in power and people have a right to expression and freedom of action. If these are curbed, the result will be disastrous. The recent episode of arresting the professor for a cartoon depicting her in poor light has not only brought protests from all over but even from the intelligentsia who had supported her before the polls. The more criticisms against her the more she gets intolerant.
Fourthly Mamata has not even completed an year and she has four more years to go. One shudders what will happen if the bad publicity continues. The acid test will be next year’s Panchayat elections. The recent CPI(M) Party Congress has decided not to take her on just now but to go ahead and rebuild the party. If the CPI(M) really does that, then there will be formidable challenge. The comrades are likely to take advantage of the adverse reaction.
Mamata has come to power with a huge majority. This also comes with big responsibility. To keep her flock together will soon become a problem if too much control is exercised. No doubt her party men realize that they had won because of her personal popularity but they should not be pushed to the wall by the iron control she exercises over them. Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao came with a 200 plus majority in 1982 but within one year his party split. He came with a much bigger majority next time and again the party was split by his own son -in-law Chandrababu Naidu. Even Rajiv Gandhi who came with 405 seats in 1984 had to face some rebels when Pranab Mukherjee and Gundu Rao left in 1985 and V.P Singh in 1987. Mamata should learn the trick of keeping her flock together and also humoring them. Already former Railway minister Dinesh Bhai Trivedi has shown his guts by opposing her for which he lost his job. Now another rebel MP Kabir Suman is taking pot shots by mocking her through his poems about the cartoon fiasco.
All these do not mean that Mamata has done nothing in these nine months. If one goes to Kolkata, people talk of her effective measures to deal with the Maoists. She has kept the central forces on toes and also pumped in a lot of money for development and jobs in the Maoist areas. Even her worst critics give her credit for this one measure. She has fought and got more money form the Planning Commission for Bengal. She is taking small steps in other directions too.
Mamata still has a clout and good equation with some non- Congress chief ministers and could take a lead anytime she wants on countering the centre. She has got her way on many things because of her party’s support to the UPA like the railway budget, land acquisition bill, delaying the NCTC and so on. The Centre will oblige her whims as long as it needs her support. Mamata still has supporters who look up to her and she should make sure that they are not disillusioned fast. She has many more challenges to face before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but the foremost among them is not to lose the huge goodwill she has gained in the Assembly polls. (IPA Service)