Didi has done it again; she has turned against those who had supported her. Mamata Banerjee seems to have a penchant for doing this, turning her rage against the very people who helped her grow, emerge, consolidate and win; a strange affliction especially in a person who has to turn to the “peepul” over and over again for votes. The recent thrashing of the Nonadanag protestors is a point in the case. Yet one wonders what did the APDR imagine, that they could protest, rouse the rubble and raise voices and Sardar bahut khush hoga kya, sabaasi dega kya? It is Mamata who like Gabbar controls the den; in her world she is the boss, a la Caesar Milan the famous Dog Whisperer who says that one has to be a pack leader and dog lovers are poor pack leaders. The mistake that many make about Mamata is that in her presence they can assume to lead the pack; when she is in charge she is the leader and just one strays out of the pack, the leader must bark it back and in cases of the more recalcitrant ones, the leader catches those by the neck and shakes them into obedience. Seven years of dog walking in the forest parks of Delhi has shown this to me. Mamata is that perfect pack leader. Better be totally disciplined in her kingdom, otherwise you are a conspirer against the State. Mamata’s world seems paranoid, sensitive to criticism, thin skinned and easily alerted into an offence for defense. Is Mamata being constructed as a brat by perceptions that completely miss her logic?
I noticed Mamata with Singur and Nandigram and that was when she was nearly forty years old in active politics. For forty years she has walked lonely and solitary, she has lived in exile, almost in anonymity, unseen and unspoken about. All these years whenever she has been elected she has almost always been given a Ministry of Cabinet rank; she has resigned her Ministry at the drop of a hat; many say she is irresponsible but she also has never shown any attachment to office. Political parties have gone after her; she has never sought favours with any. In her long years of politics, she many not have a bound script for her agenda nor has a documented ideology but on a case by case basis, she has always spoken her own mind, her own convictions without caring who has heard her and much less who has supported her. I was disgusted with her when she raised her voice against Dhananjay Chatterjee’s hanging; a crime absolutely unpardonable and though I am against the death sentence I had no doubt that the offence was the rarest of the rare and if there is a death sentence in the country then the offender in this case deserves it. Much later as I read through the case papers on the Internet, I find a gaping hole in the witness accounts; my long hours of watching Adalat and CID has tuned me to the nuances of examination of evidence. If the incriminating evidence was a blood smeared shirt then why did no one see him wearing the shirt when he came out of Parekh’s flat; if he had changed his clothes then why did no one notice him carrying a packet? Surely, the DNA test not being done, there are reasons to suspect that the sentencing was not fool proof. My point is that Mamata did not speak through her hat, she must have noticed something.
In Damayanti Sen’s case, I was sad that such a bright young woman officer had to leave; but unfortunately she in the height of her enthusiasm did something an officer should never do; talk to the press that was glorifying her. Many years ago when Field Marshall Manekshaw claimed credit for the Bangladesh War in a press conference, Mrs Gandhi sent him a warning and the mighty soldier immediately apologized, profusely. Ms Sen was abrogating office discipline and that too when she really had investigated nothing; she followed no procedure of medical examination, the offenders were known to the victim, she merely went ahead and arrested them from their respective addresses provided by the victim. There was actually no detective work, no analysis, and no investigation. Ms Sen, an upright and a sensitive officer rightly said that medical examination is not needed to establish rape, but given the circumstances of it being past midnight and the gentlemen in question being trusted friends of the woman, one requires more restraint in projecting the crime as being one committed against women. It is not the same as a woman being abducted and raped while on her way home from work, or out all alone to fetch medical help for an ailing parent. Ms Sen was all flushed with her maiden achievement which was actually not so much of an achievement and flashed it to defy the government. It is our problem if we never knew of Mamata; but she is actually a political class and she acted like a true politician in crushing a bureaucrat secretly hungry for publicity. Ms Sen would never have taken this liberty with a Jayalalitha, or a Nitish Kumar or a Deve Gowda; but with regard to Mamata, Ms Sen thought her as vernacular, a maid servant class, poor, un English and hence powerless and malleable. Ms Sen went out weeping for taking Hitler Didi for granted.
In case of Kabir Suman, and now Koushik Sen and others, those who were out of favour during the Left Rule fantasized a new role of political importance in the new government. The intellectuals desire for power is a special moment of fascism which swept through Europe in the early twentieth century, a moment when intellectuals who no longer control the means of production and finding themselves at the bottom of the heap vis-à-vis the capitalist class, where in the earlier centuries they had come from the bourgeoise class leading the industrial revolution. Intellectuals like Heidegger and Nietzsche and before him Kant and Hegel were instances of such individuals like our present day Mahashweta Devi et al. Nonadanga slum resettlement was a place where they united to stake claims to a greater share in the government; I knew of this plan of the APDR right at the time of Singur episode because one of its leaders invited me there and I spent an entire day looking around the resettlement area. I do not believe that the displaced can be resettled; a displacement is a displacement. Resettlement is a displacement in itself. The greater part of the Nonadanga resettlement was that people lost their livelihoods and faced enormous trouble. Expectedly no one wanted to come to this colony; my own displacement from south Delhi and resettlement in a Haryana suburb has thrown my life out of gear, made me a different person. I think that I know. Similarly there were various places from where the displaced persons protested and all led by the APDR. The APDR is misguided, too drunk on power with too little patience to acquire it. They treated Mamata as one who they could control and command, she being grammatically incorrect in English and her accent in Bengali had difficulties in producing cultivated intonations of the rophola. Through her the APDR willed power thinking her government as a power vacuum. Murderous rage erupts to show who the boss is; one needs politicians for democracies to survive for how can play cricket without the ball?
Singur and Nonadanga are not the same in Mamata’s eyes though to us who believe in human and civil rights both are cases of loss of livelihood. But what was Mamata defending in Singur and what did she offend in Nonadanga? Much as we like to believe that she was on the side of the sarbohara, we do not notice that the Singur battle was also a property battle. Too many people wrote on Singur without actually visiting the homes and the people, too many people saw the outer shell and then fitted their own theories of movements and protests. What was the discourse behind the Singur protest; we all may eventually give up our land, the farmers said but we want to part with it at our will, our choice and our decision at the best prices. If we are alienated of land today then we lose our hold on the future value of the asset. Singur’s battle was a battle over property; where the small owner resisted the bigger land shark, the Tatas in this case, albeit in the guise of putting up an industry. In case of Nonadanga, it is the poor, the marginalized, the homeless and the stray that moves into the shadows of the palaces to seek shelter. The slums are asylums from the economic distress and political mayhem in Bengal villages; how is it possible that the refugees of development now face the same circumstances that had uprooted them, is it not the same as the famous Kishore Kumar song, the water that quenches the fire has now become the inflammable source that conflagrates?
It is not so much against the protests that Mamata has wielded her stick, it is a stick that she brandishes out to cower the APDR to submission. Those who thought her as backward and not wanting capitalism and hence imagined her to be a puppet to such theories has now the rude shock; one tight slap across your face, educated or no educated, artist or no artist, I am the boss. She has shown that there is no power vacuum in Bengal which the APDR or the Congress will rush to fill. Bengal has a government, a CM, a very rough one at that. Like SRK’s famous dialogue of Chak De, every team can have only one goonda and I am that goonda, the only one for the team, Chak De Phatte.
In her election manifesto she had promised that she will make Kolkata like London; I know that she will. What I fear in Mamata is not her inabilities to fulfill her promise, but her ability to do exactly what she has set out to do. She has a will to power and in her way she has no tolerance for doubt. On the very afternoon when the police beat up citizens over Nonadanga, humiliated intellectuals, the CM was addressing a group of children. She said that no one will ever know you for your despair; everyone will know you for your hopes. Ruchir Joshi in his book on Poriborton tells us of Mamata’s hyperactive mind and energetic body; she has enormous amount of energy and with this super surplus energy she has only remained in anonymity and ignominy over the long forty years. What has she done in the long decades of exile. In her own interview she says that she has walked, travelled, conversed and listened in all the streets and lanes of Bengal, all homes of the people, in the city of mirrors she has grown to know each of her neighbours, arhsi nogorer porshider ami jone jone chini. No Bengali is unknown to her. It is from this vantage point that she now plays her game of eliminating her enemies, the contenders to her Empire. It is an imperial game that Mamata is playing for if Kolkata should be London, the government too will have to be British.
Mamata is not a new incumbent; she is a seasoned politician and despite her walks in Nandigram, she remains a quintessential mainstream politician who uses the elections to come to power. She is also the least manipulative politician of our times, one who does not disguise her moves; if she does not like something she tells you on your face then and there. Not a single of her moves has any shade of inhibition or restraint; she does so without any heed to what such actions appear to the civil society. Whatever you may accuse her of, it cannot be doublespeak. Since we do not speak from the ground and talk in terms of ideologies which are universals hegemonising particulars, we assumed that because of Singur Mamata will treat Nonadanga kindly. Never imagine so; even before Nonadanga fell to the APDR, Mamata never met them. She held out that this was a slum that had to be in Nonadanga and that there was no going back to the canal. She never entertained Nonadanga’s needs because she never wanted to take up the case; she took up the cases of Singur and Nandigram. Please notice that in both cases she is defending property and not standing against it; in Singur she defended the farmer’s property, in Nonadanga she defended the State property, eminent domain!
Whenever I see Mamata in her mercilessness, in her indifference to win friends, in her casualness in creating enemies, her disregard for rewards, her comfort with defeat, I realize that hers is a biography that is today the most marginalized, the most attacked, relegated to the bottom of the heap. A single woman, an individual outside any kind of institutions, poor, socially not in the high echelons, a category who everyone resists inviting over for meals (my married cousins never invite me as an individual and on occasions my friends’ and cousins’ husbands have abused me to the point of being physical because they think that I am spoiling their wives by making them confident), a woman because she is a woman a man’s world cannot believe that she speaks sense ( the problem with women scientists is not that they have to manage home and work but their observations are taken as not being scientific). With these things loaded against her at every step where the world has always wanted to control, discipline and punish such a woman if ever she takes a free stride (my FB friends’ comments at Mamata shows how every move of hers is examined and derided even if they are only routine matters of the government), Mamata can rise up to any kind of bullying, whether of the CPM, or Congress, or the APDR, or the refugees, a category to which she herself belongs, or the Tatas, or Horsho, the aspiring Neotia. In the driving seat, behind the wheels, it is her.
In Mamata Banerjee’s autobiography there is an interesting anecdote which to my mind constitutes her views of the world. It seems that the Haldars of Kalighat refused to accept a sari which her mother had asked to be draped around the idol saying that it was too plain. Mamata nonetheless handed the sari over and left the temple. In the afternoon on her way back home she dropped by the temple and was amazed to see that the very same plain sari was draped around the Goddess. When she inquired how was it that the saree that was rejected in the morning was up there in the noon? The Haldar told her in exasperation, what to do, not a single sari beside yours came for Ma today. This is the crux of Didi; she has given you a sari to wear; keep it aside and wait for anything better to come your way. If there is another wear it by all means, but if there is none…