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She who does the unthinkable

She who does the unthinkable
It is often difficult to like Mamata Banerjee as a political leader. But you have to give it to her that she knows she belonged to the class of urban poor; has strongest of class loyalties, and is the reason for which she resonated with the urban underclass of Kolkata early in her political career.

Since then, her number of admirers has only increased as the message about her steadfast opposition to the middle-class run CPI [M] and its fellow partners, have spread far and wide.

So her métier is as an agitationist politician, who constantly innovated, and added tools to her agit-prop repertoire. Her political histrionic abilities have been amply proved over time. In all the time she spent at Writers’ Buildings, the heart of the West Bengal’s governance for the last 18 months or so, she seemed mostly at sea. The bureaucrats befuddled her more.

But now she looks brilliant again as she has launched her broadside against a Congress party that is still smelling the putrid smell of the rotting remains of neo-liberalism. Two days from now she will launch an agitation against the UPA government on the issue of FDI in retail; removal of subsidies on petroleum products, and now even the increase in service tax for rail travel.

Those who believe that Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have been tactical virtuosos in running the coalition and governing the country would do well to watch Mamata Banerjee in her elements. She may not be a tactical genius to match the supposed attributes of the two Congress leaders mentioned above, but she knows how to tear up the best laid plans of such tactical finery, and forge her path.

That is what she did with the Left Front in West Bengal. The geniuses of Alimuddin Street where the CPI [M] is headquartered in the state had pain-stakingly have seen their best laid plans to trap Banerjee, being torn apart by her as she moved into the latest political arena with bull-headed determination, gender neutrally.

Like a typical political subversive, she is unpredictable with a penchant for doing the unthinkable. She cares little for the niceties of political behavior that supposedly guides the political discourse in a democracy. She barely shows the talent for political schmoozing that supposedly guide much of the lowest minimum consensus amongst apparent political adversaries.

If she did not hold in such angry contempt anything communist, she could have easily considered saying that her battle was against anything ‘bourgeois.’ But there also lies the rub for her kind of politics. She caught perfectly the mood of the hoi-polloi in Bengal, which lay on the left of the Left Front in 2009 and that got her the electoral victory in the state.

Now she senses a similar opportunity even at the national level. This planned agitation in New Delhi seems to be an effort to conjoin the mood in country with the mood in West Bengal, thus strengthening her position in the state. Success in this project could come over some time when she also provides governance in the state.

The Bengali middle classes’ concerns about the language she uses to classify various events in the state have already caused the former to show their disgust towards her. But that should not detract her attention from tending to her core constituency in inner Bengal, where a large section of the people looks at her for enfranchisement in terms of economic well-being.

For that, she knows that she has to increase the capital stock of the state. She tried initially to rinse off her taint of being anti-capital, especially when it collided with the people’s common interests. So she took Amit Mitra from New Delhi to be the finance minister of the state, ostensibly to give a sense to the domestic owners of capital that they had one of their own in the government, who they can speak with.

But this came almost at the same time when she made changes to the land laws of the state. In the change she included a statute by which the government could no longer acquire land or any private project and created a provision for the private sector to acquire land directly from the potential sellers.

This was considered an unfriendly order by most of the private sector as they planned their moves. And the legal provision have become a bugbear between Banerjee’s need for attracting capital to the state and the capital’s perception of desirability of West Bengal as they plan their next project. They had mounted quite a bit of pressure on the chief minister, Mamata, but had failed to sway her till now. It could well be a litmus test for a transformation – either for her or for the state.

Pinaki Bhattacharya is a senior journalist.
Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya

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