How a fiery Mamata is going to sweep West Bengal, twice over

Manogya Loiwal
Manogya LoiwalMay 19, 2016 | 08:07

How a fiery Mamata is going to sweep West Bengal, twice over

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has achieved what no leader in India has managed to do, twice. She first defeated the Left front in 2011 and now the the Left and Congress combine in the 2016 Assembly elections.

What makes this historic is that she is the only woman in the world to have achieved this feat in the span of a decade.

The secret to her success goes beyond just the sweat and toil. The high voting percentage in this election had left everyone in a state of confusion, but Trinamool knew they had got the trick right - one they had learnt from the Left front - a pattern of organisational voting.

TMC's key challenge in the coming days will be to bring an end to infighting.

And it has paid dividends. The "hawai chappal" has ensured to silence all critics and rivals - be it the Narada sting operation or the Saradha scam.It may have dented the image of the party, but it has not tainted her personal image.

A firebrand leader in the national politics, Mamata was popularly known as Agni Kanya in the state as she was the lone and loudest voice against the Left in West Bengal.

In its 34 year of rule in Bengal, the only voice of Opposition that echoed in Delhi was of Mamata. The difference was that Jyoti Basu dealt with an iron hand and ensured she was dragged out of Writers' Building during a protest when she was with the Youth Congress, but Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was different and hence the Singur and Nandigram episodes ensued, epitomising her as pro-poor.

Mamata has been known to be in active politics from her college days: as a youth leader in the Congress she was always the blue-eyed colleague of Rajiv Gandhi, handpicked even for a foreign tour even when she had almost no knowledge of the English language. Rajiv's trust in Didi was such that she was taken into the ministry too.

Interestingly, Mamata Banerjee is the only leader from West Bengal to have found berths in the ministries of both the UPA and the NDA, and she walked out of both the governments over differences.

West Bengal saw its first ever dramatic political shift when the Mamata-led Trinamool Congress defeated the 34-year long rule of the Left brigade in 2011.

With promises of a "Poriborton" to revolutionise Bengal, the TMC government inflicted a crusading defeat, winning 184 seats with the Congress - who was an ally then and claimed 42 seats. The Left front, which had been in power for seven consecutive terms in the state, managed only 40 seats in the 294-member Assembly.   

Development was promised, and a much-needed liberation from the Left’s  violence, especially after Singur and Nandigram, was part of the to-do list that Mamata said her comrades would see through. Riding high on the slogan of “Badli chai, badla noy", which translated to "we want change, not revenge", West Bengal decided to test whether Mamata would deliver what she said. 

In the history of Bengal's political scenario, Nandigram and Singur were the key revolutions that propelled TMC to power. Once its stronghold, the Left could barely hold their region after the arson and unrest of 2007, which took place after the standoff between the administration and the local farmers. Determined to protect their ancestral lands, the farmers stood up to the state’s police and the CPI(M)’s feared Harmad Vahini goons.

In its castigating firing, the police shot dead 14 villagers and wounded more than 50, leaving whole families hapless and in perennial destitution. Although the Nandigram of today presents a vastly different picture with well-developed roads and clinics, the locals are of the opinion that a series of small industries in the area could be built along the river from Haldia up to Contai in East Midnapur.  

Similarly, the revolution at Singur too had further strengthened the people's defiance of the Left. Singur in Hooghly and Nandigram in East Midnapore played a major role in ensuring Mamata's win in the rural backdrop, where the Left had alienated a major section of the public in trying to seize the farmlands for a pact with the TATAs for industrialisation, which ultimately did not materialise.

However, five years on, Mamata's promise seems to be lost for countless farmers who still live a life of poverty and zero development.

Neither have they got their lands back, nor is there a scope of industrial development in the region. Caught between two generations, where the old farmer would want nothing but his land whereas his son, armed with education, would like to move out of agrarian occupation, the TMC government seems to be washing its hands off the problem.

With the matter still with the Supreme Court, the farmers don't know who to turn to in their hour of crisis.   But when speaking of development, the TMC government boasts of multi-specialty hospitals and schools constructed in the area along with developed equipment and medical facilities.

The TMC government's pet projects of Kanyashree, which is the monetary aid for families educating girl children, the 100 days' work scheme, and Sabuj Sathi, have been marked examples of rural development. The government has also provided for daily labourers with subsidy in food and wages.

Mamata has made this "achievement" a highlight of her varied political campaigns after the Opposition time and again accused her government corruption. However, since coming to power, the TMC government has been braked with such allegations of graft.

One of the major setbacks the TMC government faced early on was the Sarada scam, a financial and alleged political fraud, which was caused by the collapse of a Ponzi scheme run by Saradha group, a consortium of more than 200 private companies said to be running collective investment schemes as chit funds. Madan Mitra, former TMC minister and MLA from the Kamarhati constituency was arrested by the CBI for his alleged involvement in Saradha scam on December 2014. The CBI is also investigating his links in the Rose Valley chit fund scam. However, Mamata has continued to show faith in Mitra with the latter being nominated from his constituency in North 24 Parganas even though he continues to be in jail as part of the investigation. The TMC felt the sting of corruption yet again when the Narada sting operation made headlines after almost a dozen ministers of the TMC were caught on camera accepting bribes just before the state Assembly elections.

With the timing of the sting being near perfect to hit the TMC right where it should, Mamata's tone showed a certain shift where she was for the first time, seen apologising on her party's behalf and requested the people to not withdraw their support from the TMC.   

The recent collapse of an under-construction flyover in central Kolkata again brought the TMC in the limelight for the wrong reasons.

The Opposition latched on to the opportunity and tried to pull down the Mamata-led TMC. The CM had then rushed to oversee the rescue operations and blamed the previous Left government for the disaster. The CPI(M), however, alleged that the portion of the bridge that collapsed was built during the TMC tenure. 

Following the series of unfortunate events, backed by a mounting Opposition attack, Mamata finally admitted at a public meeting in April 201 that all may not be well in the party. The West Bengal CM accepted that she was at fault and took responsibility for it.

Two days later, the state government finally ordered an internal probe into the Narada charges.    

Such issues of corruption have been picked up by the Left-Congress alliance in this year's poll campaigning too - it remains the Opposition's main agenda. One positive that Mamata Banerjee can call her own would be the incorporation of the enclave dwellers of Coochbehar in the 2016 Assembly elections. After the India-Bangladesh land exchange deal that came through in 2015, the state government worked to get on board the debut voters of the five constituencies that included the enclaves.

With the Maoist power losing its hold in West Midnapore, especially Jangalmahal, its importance in the TMC's final report cannot be overlooked. And Mamta Banerjee has proclaimed success in eliminating the Maoists in her innumerable poll campaigns.

The death of top Maoist leader Kishenji in a police encounter during the TMC regime has considerably weakened the hold of the Maoist movement.

Mamata Banerjee has also broken the monopoly of the Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) in the Hills, despite her political understanding with Gurung before coming to power in the last Assembly elections.

The minority votes have been a decisive factor in the elections every time and it was no wonder that Mamata also led a crusade to get them on board with schemes and extensive rhetoric.  

With political dynamics changing every time, it is an exciting match between the Mamata government and the Left-Congress alliance. So finally Trinamool has found a reason to stick to its roots and ensure that Congress, which was a friend last election season, now sits on the Opposition benches.

However, the TMC's key challenge in the coming days will be to bring an end to infighting and sabotage by disgruntled party workers.

Meanwhile, Mamata has made history in Bengal.

Last updated: May 19, 2016 | 17:04
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