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Mamata turns a new page

Mamata turns a new page
The Trinamool Congress observes 21 July every year as Martyrs’ Day. It was on this day in 1993 that thirteen youths were shot dead by the Left Front Government’s police in Kolkata. They had gathered at various points in the city to participate in a ‘march to Writers’ Buildings’ (the State Secretariat) at the call of the All India Youth Congress of which Mamata Banerjee was the State President.

Their demand was that voters’ identity cards be made the only document to verify a voter’s identity, to prevent the mass-scale ‘scientific rigging’ that the CPI-M was allegedly resorting to. Mamata was still in the Congress. The TMC was formed in 1998.  Since then it had been religiously observing this day with Mamata as the main speaker.

The speech that Mamata made this year had three distinct messages. Her speech reflected the recognition of the political reality in the State that the CPI-M and the Congress were a decaying force and the BJP, buoyed by its victory in the Lok Sabha elections, was fast emerging as the main opposition party. In a significant departure from her usual burden of speech, concentrating fire on the CPI-M, she made the State BJP the principal target of her attack.

The criticism of the Modi Government at the Centre was only incidental and on a low key. It was criticized for raising railway fares and freight and hiking fuel and gas prices.

Equally significantly, she appealed to all ‘ideologically committed’ Left party workers to join the Trinamool Congress. Four MLAs, three from the Congress and one from the CPI-M, formally joined the TMC at this meeting. This also had a political significance. More about it later.

A careful analysis of her speech shows the political maturity that Mamata has acquired in the three years she has been in power. She has realised that the BJP poses not only a political-organisational challenge but also an ideological challenge. This challenge can be combated only on the ideological plane by presenting a counter ideology. And she has chosen the Left ideology. Hence, her call to the Leftists to join the TMC.

Very clearly, Mamata has adopted a two-pronged strategy with regard to the BJP. Criticize the State BJP as a party relentlessly and mount an all out political-ideological battle against it, because the party is becoming the main opponent of TMC.  But do not unnecessarily antagonize the Modi government because it will harm West Bengal’s economic and financial interest.  She has made a clear distinction between the BJP party and its government.

A mature politician that she has now become, she has also realized the real, underlying cause of the Congress’ ignominious defeat in the LS polls, being reduced to mere 44 seats – only ten more that what the TMC won in West Bengal alone. Under Manmohan Singh, the Congress jettisoned the Nehru-Mahalanobis model of development in which there was room for both public and private sectors, but the public sector dominated the national economy. The greatest harm that Manmohan Singh did to the Congress was to destroy the party’s traditional Left-of-Centre’ image and turn it into an ardent champion of free-market capitalism – both indigenous and foreign. It ceased to be a pro-poor party and turned into a pro-rich party. That was the party’s undoing. Mamata now wants to take over the mantle of the old Congress of the Nehru-Indira days.

She knows that for the TMC to emerge as a national party and as a force to be reckoned with in national politics, she has to take a Left-of-Centre position. That way alone she can establish her credentials as an alternative to the Congress. She knows that most of her leaders and grassroot workers have very little ideological understanding of politics and the nature of the struggles ahead. Hence, her call to ‘ideologically committed’ Left workers to come to the fold of the TMC.

The critics and traducers of Mamata and her party would have everyone believe that under the Mamata dispensation, things have become worse than they were under the Left Front rule. That this is a travesty of truth is proved by the strident criticism of Mamata and her Government now being freely made. Under the CPI-M rule, people would not dare criticize CPI-M openly for fear of immediate reprisal.

The critics would also have the people believe that Mamata’s popularity has now touched its nadir. Were it so, the four MLAs, three from Congress and one from the CPI-M, would not have joined the TMC at the 21 July rally. These legislators have not taken sanyas from politics. They have joined the TMC to contest the 2016 State Assembly elections on Trinamool ticket. If they were not sure of their victory as Trinamool candidates, would they cross over to the TMC?

But as a hard-headed realist Mamata does know that her party’s popularity has suffered some erosion. Hence her stern message to all party men that she would not tolerate groupism, group clashes, in-fighting, extortion and rampant indiscipline in the party.

And those who do not heed the warning will be thrown out. If she really can do what she says she will do, the Trinamool Congress will be safe in West Bengal for a long time to come.

Barun Das Gupta

Barun Das Gupta

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