Mamata deserves a longer rope

Why are we being so harsh on Mamata Banerjee?

Every act of omission or commission by her government is magnified by the national media and presented as yet more evidence that West Bengal is looking down a long and slippery road.

But is that really so?

And how come those whose hearts are now bleeding over infant deaths, the alleged murder of CPI(M) activists, insensitive comments about rape victims and social boycott of political opponents were silent when Marxist cadres were terrorizing the state and its people for 34 years?

Don’t believe me? Then let me remind you:

* On April 30, 1982, 17 Ananda Margis, including a woman nun, were dragged out three taxis in Kolkata in broad daylight and beaten and burnt in front of thousands of eyewitnesses. No one has ever been arrested for this heinous crime, committed allegedly by ruling party workers. The National Human Rights Commission took up the case in 1996 but could not make any progress due to lack of cooperation from the then ruling Left Front government.

* Idris Ali, the prime accused in the murder of deputy commissioner of police Vinod Mehta, was killed in police custody. He had allegedly named several ruling party bigwigs in the conspiracy to murder Mehta. The case remains unsolved.

* When Anita Dewan, a government health worker, was raped, allegedly by party-backed lumpen, while on an official assignment to Bantala in 1994, then chief minister Jyoti Basu nonchalantly brushed it aside saying “Such things happen.” Some locals were arrested but let off for want of evidence.

* Several Trinamool Congress supporters were burnt alive, allegedly by CPI(M) goons, in their houses in Chhoto Angaria in East Midnapore in 2003.

* Till well into the 1990s, Jyoti Basu and senior Left Front leaders used to blame the “Centre’s step-motherly attitude” for West Bengal’s woes, prompting then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to remark: “They’ll blame the Centre even if one of their minister fall ill.”

* Then, starting from 1967, when the first CPI(M)-dominated United Front government came to power in West Bengal, Marxist leaders systematically hounded and drove out industry and industrialists from the state.

* Over the course of 34 years, the Left Front also systematically destroyed the structure of the government and the administration at the grassroots level, making it indistinguishable from the party. It was common for district collectors to seek clearances from secretaries of the CPI(M)’s local committees before implementing court orders or government directives.

* Across rural West Bengal, CPI(M) cadres ruthlessly enforced a social apartheid, where any person or family remotely connected to the Trinamool Congress was first boycotted, then ostracized and, if he/they still didn’t fall in line, murdered. Thousands of TMC workers have “disappeared” this way.

* The state’s once-vaunted educational infrastructure was reduced to an adjunct of the CPI(M)’s education cell. Mediocre and undeserving party loyalists were placed in positions of authority at the state’s top universities and colleges, forcing good students to pursue higher studies in other states and even abroad.

* And a culture of no accountability and public loot reduced the state’s exchequer to a bottomless pit awash in red ink.

This, then, was the state of affairs that Banerjee inherited when she took office a year ago.

By any reasonable account, the task before her was (and is) Herculean. She herself has said more than once that it would take at least two terms to clean up the mess left behind by the Left Front.

Yet, the media would rather judge her by her alleged failures in her first 12 months as chief minister. This is patently unfair.

* The crib deaths across the state are the result of a healthcare system that was left in a shambles by the Left Front. No one said a word when the Left was systematically destroying the administration in the state.

* Banerjee’s comments on the Park Street rape case comments were insensitive, but it was no more so than Basu’s reaction to the Bantala incident.

* The alleged violence against CPI(M) cadre is unfortunate and should be condemned. But it is also a case of the boot now being on the other foot. The bleeding hearts were nowhere in sight when CPI(M) cadres were exterminating their rivals across rural West Bengal.

* The hue and cry over the alleged removal of Marx and Engels from school syllabus was a tempest in a tea cup. No one raised an eyebrow when Marxist dogma was introduced into the syllabus in order to brainwash young minds. And in reality, Banerjee’s government wasn’t really removing Marx and Engels; it was merely correcting an unacceptable ideological skew, which placed communist ideology above all others.

Banerjee doesn’t have a magic wand to usher in the poribartan she promised. Rehabilitating a demoralized and moribund administration will take time. And she is seriously hamstrung by the financial profligacy of her predecessor government, which has left her coffers empty.

One reason for the bad press could be the still strong influence of Marxists among the journalist fraternity. Many of them haven’t been able to stomach the rejection by the people of their favourite party and its fall from grace in national politics.

These supporters of the party of the plutocratic proletariat are now striking back.

The other influential section in the media – the pro-reforms lobby – which could have countered the leftist propaganda finds no reason to back Banerjee.

Her idiosyncratic move to oppose FDI in retail, which can potentially change the face of rural India and the Indian economy, her opposition to hiking railway fares and her generally populist, anti-reforms image have put off many people who had initially supported her.

But by all accounts, her honeymoon with the common people – her core constituency – isn’t over yet.

The local body polls coming up next year will test this hypothesis and set the stage for the Lok Sabha polls in 2014. Meanwhile, Banerjee will do well to become more accessible to the media.

We watched patiently as the CPI(M)-led Left Front completely destroyed a vibrant state over 34 years.

My take: let us give Banerjee at least one full term in power before judging her performance.