The unusual indulgence shown by many observers and ordinary voters towards Mamata Banerjee was really a product of hostility towards the shockingly dismal fate Indian communism had inflicted on West Bengal. Most concluded that virtually any price was worth paying to get rid of a bankrupt and utterly malevolent state of affairs. Yet there were grounds for doubting this would be the best option for the future of West Bengal. The incumbent Communist Chief Minister of the State, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, was showing signs of being conscious of the deep problems besetting West Bengal though one powerful minister suggested he was only the public face of his party.
Understanding the Mamata Phenomenon
Ultimately, the phenomenon Mamata Banerjee represented was a menacing reflex of the disenchantment with the communists. She and the Trinamul Congress harboured an untutored and unthinking rage, which she herself had long cultivated, rather than any considered sense of an alternative future. There was little else besides an ugly personal pique and self righteousness. In the aftermath of her emergence, as the overwhelmingly dominant force in West Bengal politics in 2011, she has revealed only whimsy, perversity, arrogance, intolerance and complete disregard for the long term economic future of the State. She combines a state of permanent denial of reality with total abasement before the minority bank that brought her to power. And criminals have joined her in droves, with the usual contingent of property sharks that quickly gravitate towards the ruling party, engaged in shocking evictions to seize property.
The arithmetic of her electoral surge has been exaggerated and misunderstood. The CPM suffered a setback, but after such a prolonged period of catastrophic misrule it was not dramatic. Although the communist alliance suffered devastating losses in the number of assembly seats it managed to retain, its share of the total vote only fell a few percentage points, remaining at 37% of the total cast. It highlighted the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system and the importance of tactical voting rather than mass defection of voters from the communists. It was in fact the misadventures of Nandigram and Singur and private confabulations between the Trinamul Congress and leaders of the minority community that sealed the fate of the communists. Ruling parties in West Bengal are effectively chosen by minority vote banks and cannot survive without their imprimatur.
The future envisaged by Mamata Banerjee and her hugely ambitious backers was largely about consolidation of minority interests rather than any renewal of the economy, polity or the cultural life of West Bengal. This empty wider reverie, associated with Mamata Banerjee’s reprise, was only a chimera in the minds of an emaciated intelligentsia and dreadfully parochial media. Their mannered Anglicised pretensions in the sinking boat that is Kolkata are merely a pitiable phenomenon. They are no longer inheritors of the traditions of Vidyasagar and Ashutosh Mukherjee, to only name but two, but the detritus of a dead society and culture, unable to comprehend the world around them.
These dangerous loyalties of the minority vote bank are grievously miscalculated by the remnants of Bengal’s bhadrolok—they who imagine their first class, first degree obsessions substitute for hard reality and constitute the basis for their own divinely-ordained social pedigree. In actuality, the supposedly ignorant minority leaders contemptuously set aside secular knowledge because it has no relevance to their faith concerns and has nothing to teach them about the means of gaining political power. They know that the path to political ascendancy depends on cultivating an instinctive fear psychosis among the faithful, manfully compounded by India’s secular media, for its own inane reasons, and ensuring disciplined voting. The deeper professional and technical proficiency in grasping the complex dynamics of Indian politics and material resources minority leaders may lack are supplied by highly proficient operators abroad, often Pakistani and Saudi as well.
The interesting question is the cause of the loss of the minority vote bank in West Bengal to the communists. Most analysts have not explored this issue adequately, imputing the defeat of the communists to a mixture of widespread public disenchantment with them in West Bengal, catalysed by the violent episodes of Nandigram and Singur. This is indeed true, but a deeper understanding is required of the electoral setback suffered by the communists and intensification of an on-going thorough Islamisation of West Bengal subsequently. The communists met minority demands with alacrity, but its disciplined party functioning kept a lid on the worst aspects of Jihadi Islam in West Bengal. There has been a failure of political analysis in interpreting the setback suffered by the communists and their malevolent allies, some merely proxies of extra-constitutional interests. This failure of perception derives from profound media and intellectual ignorance about of the dynamics and motivation of minority politics in India and of course West Bengal.
Violence by Minorities Unabated & Unchecked
The relationship between minority vote banks, refracted through the resolute intermediation of their leaders, is wholly opportunistic and conditional, which their propensity to change loyalties instantly ought to have confirmed by now. In addition, West Bengal’s electoral arithmetic dictates that disciplined minority voting, since they comprise a third of the total, only requires an additional ten percent of the entire remaining electorate to ensure an overwhelming majority in the State assembly. This ten percent can derive from party activists alone, rendering remaining voters pretty much irrelevant. The Trinamul Congress harvested a majority of minority votes and its own paid party activist thugs comprised the remainder, delivering the landslide that Mamata Banerjee won in 2011.
Minority community leaders quietly harbour utter disdain for the self proclaimed atheistic, communists on religious grounds alone, but tolerated them as long as their singular aims could be pursued. Their principal goal has always been to retain control over the faithful and ensure their loyalty to religious tenets and daily practices that perpetuate it. Other issues like public services, etc., are ignored as secondary, including the secular obsession with economic advancement and social upliftment. Indeed the latter is regarded with deep-seated suspicion and, if anything, a secular ploy that threatens the integrity of the community! Such transformation would unavoidably involve changes in the role of minority women, a prospect all Muslim communities view with undiluted horror and resist, irrespective of any internal sectarian disputes or alleged liberal instincts of some faithful.
In addition, the apparent change in social and economic policy promulgated by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya constituted a signal that he was cultivating the Bengali Bhadrolok constituency and land acquisition was also in prospect. Minority community leaders consider ownership of land and geographical propinquity of the faithful as cardinal for political dominance in a given area, to be sought and retained. This is why the opportunistic intimacy was severed the moment the communists sought to evict mainly Muslims from their landholdings in Singur and Nandigram, to the accompaniment of some egregious violence. Significantly, the extraordinarily trivial affair of Rizwanur Rahman’s death, following his elopement with a businessman’s daughter, was regarded as significant by the minority community. The minority community, to its credit, regards an attack on any member of the community as an attack on the entire community.
What resulting private representations were made and failed to alter the path chosen by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee remains unknown though perhaps archives and memoirs will one day reveal. There was also possibly a sense that the communists were becoming unpopular with other constituents and apprehension that fresh political combinations were necessary to preserve minority influence. It was but one step from direct negotiations with the Trinamul Congress and Mamata Banerjee, no doubt about the specifics of their demands. It is now clear that after so many years in the political wilderness and unrewarded agitation, she seized the opportunity with both hands. Mamata Banerjee launched a relentless assault, regardless of cost to West Bengal and its development plans, on issues leaders of the minority community demanded reassurance. She appears to have pretty much conceded all demands, the substance of which has been unfolding in the daily life of West Bengal since 2011.
The recent gang rape and brutal murder of the twenty year-old girl from Kamduni village by Muslims assailants is the test case that confirmed the venal reality of the compact with the devil that earlier propelled Mamata Banerjee’s political rise. The murder of a policeman in broad daylight earlier and the dismissal of Kolkata’s police commissioner, who sought to investigate it, is an indication of Mamata’s utter contempt for legality and basic moral imperatives. The murderer was a Muslim, under the protection of a minister from the minority community, who is reputably untouchable. Kolkata businessmen openly confess that without paying hefty bribes to this Muslim warlord they cannot operate in West Bengal. The money extorted funds the web of criminality rife in West Bengal and Mamata Banerjee contemptuously dismisses incidents of rape as fabrications to harm to Trinamul’s reputation!
Only a few months ago, tens of thousands of members of the minority community demonstrated in the heart of Kolkata to protest the conviction of Bangladeshi war criminals for mass rape and murder. For good measure, they demanded the head of Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, promising they would prevent her and President Barack Obama entering the city of Kolkata, as they had done before with authors Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie. Bengal’s political class acquiesced tamely, as did its regional newspapers, which studiously decline to publish any negative information on members of the minority community, even when gross acts of criminality occur. Mamata Banerjee herself can continue behaving irresponsibly because she is secure while the vote banks remain loyal, which accounts for her arrogant truculence and refusal to act even when horrendous crimes occur. And Trinamul Congress party goons run amok against just about anybody who dares protest, as they have done in the aftermath of the rape and murder of Shipra Ghosh in Kamduni village.
Bengal’s Grim Future under Mamata
Evil is banal, as Hannah Arendt once observed, and highlights the effective loss of West Bengal to the Indian Union. Its sovereign reach in it is nominal, as with Kashmir, and authority to act minimal. In the final analysis, the majority of West Bengal has rejected the legacy of Mahaprabhu Chaitanya, Swami Vivekananda and Rishi Aurobindo. They have also apparently cast aside the nineteenth century Bengal renaissance associated with Ram Mohan Roy, Rabindranath Tagore and a galaxy of greats that ended with Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the very creator of the state who snatched it from the jaws of Jinnah and the filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, in the late twentieth. West Bengal’s nominally Hindu bhadrolok implicitly rejects the Indian Union, expressing a subliminal distaste for what they regard as the embodiment of an untutored and uncultured northern India and embraced, in its place, political Islam and the Shariah.
The now miniscule foreign-educated Bengali Bhadrolok remains adamant about the inviolable superiority of their deep thoughts, picked up in Oxbridge and the London School of Economics, mostly from British intelligence agents, masquerading as leftists. And Bengal’s Maoists have publicly proclaimed support for the assault on Mumbai on 26/11, regretting only that some members of the minority community also died. The average member of the Bengali bhadrolok is mainly concerned about the price of Hilsa, even as they are awoken in the early hours of the morning by ear-splitting calls to Azan broadcast illegally over loudspeakers.
But to come back to the subject of Mamata Banerjee: what is she essentially like? Despite all her political criminality, it would be a mistake to think that she has any instinctive love for the minority community, or that she shares their political perspectives. If, by some cosmic miscalculation, Hindus learnt to vote as a bloc, and decided to consider an attack upon any of their members as an attack upon the entire community, Mamata would have done for the Hindus what she is doing for Muslims. No, her essential nature can be spelt out in one single word: c-y-n-i-c-a-l. In this she emulates not the Communists, some of whom may still have some idealism left in them, albeit of the wrong kind. While she copies their methods assiduously (though she cannot copy their diabolical finesse) her basic beliefs are those of Lalu Prasad Yadav, from the neighbouring state of Bihar. The central theme of their running the government is that only two things matter: first, they must win the next election, no matter what. And secondly, they must not let the control of the party slip away from their hands. Nothing else matters, not governance, not communal amity (if such a thing were possible), not economic development, not employment generation, not even control of the government.
Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for over two decades.