Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India
Feb 06, 2019, 10.05 AM
When the Supreme Court gave its order and Mamata Banerjee declared it a “moral victory”, I was at a tea shop nearby, close to the Metro Cinema.
The discussion there, as is so often the case in Kolkata, was that of politics. Is this really a moral victory for Mamata? Or did the CBI come out on top?
But after returning to Kolkata after a long while and at a time that politics is coursing through the city’s veins, I could not help but wonder about another question: Is this politics, the Chief Minister’s dharna to save democracy, good for Bengal and its people?
Mamata Banerjee stormed to power, catapulted largely by the Singur movement and the politics of bandhs, dharnas and dissent that she inherited from the Left.
But as a Chief Minister, she took a strong stance against such protests, and in September 2016, she reacted to a Left strike in Kolkata and considered passing a law against such bandhs. “It is not the right form of protest,” she had said.
But for Kolkata and Bengal, what is the right form of protest? This is, after all, the city that has seen the maximum number of bandhs since Independence. Former Bengal chief minister Ajoy Mukherjee of the Bangla Congress sat at Dharmatala in protest against his own government, particularly his home minister Jyoti Basu, in the 1960s.
The Left would then go on to convert organised political dissent into an art form, and by the early 2000s, the word ‘bandh’ found itself on the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary (Bandh: Indian, general strike).
It is not accidental that Mamata Banerjee chose Metro Channel for the site of her protest. Steeped with the mythology of ‘Didi’ and ‘Ma Maati Manush’, this is where she had fasted for 25 days to protest land acquisition in Singur in 2006.
I remember that protest. Rajnath Singh had come to show his solidarity. Even the governor, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, came to see the protest. Like then, I am still an onlooker of her politics. The difference is that 13 years have passed in between and the political scenario in both Bengal and the country have changed.
Can the rest of the country accept Mamata Banerjee’s brand of fiery politics? Such a confrontational and aggressive politics is liked, and perhaps even needed, in Bengal. It infuses the party cadre with adrenaline, motivates them and eventually benefits the party. But there are socio-economic reasons for it as well.
What the Oxford Dictionary doesn’t tell you, but many in the state will agree, is that there is a strong socio-economic basis for this: Protests and the politics of bandh are also a livelihood. I spoke to a man in Delhi, who had moved from Midnapore and was running a small taxi company. I asked him,“Tumi kon party koro?” This literally translates into “Which party do you do” — a possibly, more accurate representation of Bengal’s association with its politics.
He replied, “I work through the year and then I vote. The problem here is that there are no jobs, and when you don’t have work, you need the party to survive.”
There is no denying Mamata Banerjee’s success. There were others before her, but it was Banerjee’s relentless politics that dethroned the Left Front regime.
As Chief Minister, she is incredibly active and brings minute attention to detail that has often been missed. No chief minister has held as many meetings in different districts to oversee work being done.
Mamata’s instinctive politics has translated into a form of empathetic governance that has ensured that she continues to be the most popular leader in the state — by a mile.
What impact this protest will have on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is yet to be seen. But she has managed to swing the spotlight onto her, and away from Rahul Gandhi.
Every non-BJP party has come out in support and allies have turned up in Kolkata to protest with her and her acceptability has increased nationwide.
But Bengal was to host its global business summit this week. With the protest still ongoing, the fate of the summit is anyone’s guess. This year, unlike earlier, there is no participation from the Union government and its ministers, and consequently, participation from the business community is also likely to be less.
Perhaps Mamata Banerjee feels that the dharna is more relevant than global business right now.
As far as moral victories are concerned, it is not important as to who has won between the CBI and Mamata. Banerjee converted this into a standoff over the federal structure, but the fact remains that dissent is important, as is protest — but it can only co-exist alongside debate, and that is what Bengal can’t afford to forget.