So Mamata completes a year in office. In the coming days newspapers , magazines and television will try to outdo one another with articles and features analyzing ad nauseam her performance so far, to which – no doubt - Op-Ed writers and “Bidwojon-s” of the National Media will add their wisdom and pass ‘interim’ judgment. So, thought it is an opportune time for me to tuck-in my 2 penny bits to it before other illustrious and more qualified people get into the act.
A very senior Delhi-based columnist and media commentator, a non-resident Bong, has been commissioned by a top national magazine to do such a piece on Trinamool’s 365 days in power. I was mildly flattered, when he invited me for a beer at one of the clubs – to have my take on some of the issues. And, it took me just a swig of Kingfisher to launch into my pet rant on everything that Mamata and TMC seem to be doing wrong.
But, about half-way through our conversation, I paused like a subject on a therapist’s chair, and asked – wait a minute, are we being entirely fair to her? After a while – we both agreed, it’s probably too early to write her off yet and the jury is still out. Disenchantment is a creeping process – though it may not take another 34 years, as it did to throw CPIM out – it’ll be some more time before it turns into a tide against her. For that to happen earlier, she has to commit some terrible blunders – which she probably won’t, as – at the end of the day – she has too much political horse-sense to know she can’t mess around with her constituency beyond a point.
Megalomania or Incipient Paranoia
Yet, she is beginning to show disturbing signs of megalomania. Her intolerance to criticism, vulnerability to flattery and sycophancy and – what the famous Ashish Nandy calls - incipient “paranoia” (they want to “vanish” me ), reveals some shades of Indira Gandhi in the height of power. Though, it would be rather harsh to call them fascist traits as few die-hard cynics might tend to do.
Again like Indira Gandhi followed a different agenda at home and abroad – Mamata has a different line in the state and another one for the centre. When in Delhi, she flirts with non-Congress CMs to play the ‘federalism’ card (NCTC) , takes adversarial positions with the Centre on matters of fund allocation to the state and policy issues such as FDI in Retail. She wants to be consulted foreign policy issues with neighbours (Bangladesh - Teesta). These too are reminiscent of Mrs Gandhi’s and parallels can be drawn with her dalliance with the Soviets and the “Non-aligned” Block or trying to prop up SAARC. Back in Calcutta – she reverts to IG’s “Garibi Hatao” like populist chant of “Ma, Mati, Manush”.
Take a deep breath
There’s absolutely no denying , what brought Mamata to power is her call for change – “Poriborton” . But, while capitalizing on it for electoral success – she hasn’t been able to harness the goodwill, enthusiasm and positive energy of the masses for transformation of the state. Something that, a Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Narendra Modi has been able to do. Today, one can feel a palpable pride among the Biharis – which has also been transmitted to the Diaspora living across the country and even overseas. In Gujrat too – the heightened sense of chauvinism fuelled by the state’s success in almost every field is there for all to see – not just at the Vibrant Gujrat summits or the Amitabh Bacchan’s “Breathe in a bit of Gujrat’ TVCs. ( See one by clicking here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdcEqUtTcfc )
Attitude is everything
What is needed to transform Bengal – is a change in the work culture and attitude of people. Industry and investment will come in only with that – not by trying to market the state by signing up Sharukh Khan as Brand Ambassador and holding Bengal Leads or Rising Bengal Summits – a la Gujrat.
And, no one was better placed to do that than Mamata Banerjee. Even her worst critics would admit, Mamata’s singular strength is her ability to connect with people. it's not for nothing that, TIME Magazine has named her among the 100 most influential persons in the world today. She has an earthy charisma and the girl from down the lane who-made-it-good appeal, which she could use to her advantage to become a truly inspirational leader of the masses. Her call for change shouldn’t have ended with asking for votes for a change of guard at Writers’ Building – but going much beyond that to imbue the people with a new spirit of determination and enthusiasm to transform the state from within. Alas, this is where she has failed to rise to the challenge and display the qualities expected of a visionary leader.
Governance is the key
The second issue where she seems to be completely out of depth – and in which both Nitish and Modi have scored spectacularly – is governance. This is an area she should focus on to salvage the state from the morass it is swamped in. To do that would mean two things. One she has to cut off the politicians and establish direct channels of administration – as Nitish, Modi and – to some extent – even a Navin Patnaik has done. But, perhaps – she can’t do that because she needs her party network to counter the grass-root machinery of the CPIM.
In the process, she is weakening the state administration, without - perhaps - realizing it, even more than what it used to be during the Left Front rule. This is coupled with her lack of trust in her won colleagues and the scant regard with which she treats the bureaucracy or officials (as was evident in her action against the South Calcutta Dy. Commissioner of Police, Damayanti Sen after the Park Street “rape” incident or from the peremptory manner in which she deals with senior bureaucrats in public).
Forget a Nitish or Modi – who have some of the most competent and progressive officers working for them , whom they have empowered completely – a Mayawati or Akhilesh Yadav too realize the importance of an efficient bureaucracy. People may have different views on the things Mayawati (or, say Jayalalitha in her previous terms ), may have done in her 5 years – be it building gigantic monuments or getting private operators of her choice to make world-class Expressways. But, she couldn’t have achieved any of it without having officers with strong execution capabilities under her. And, all of them realize the importance of law and order in governance. So, even the detractors of Mayawati credit her for retrieving UP from “goonda raj”.
The next is the ‘trust’ factor. All good leaders have a few strong aides, political managers and administrators around them. They understand the value of experience. But, Mamata doesn’t make use of talent. She has made all the capable people around her ciphers. A Subrata Mukherjee or Saugata Roy – could very well have played the role of elder statesmen in the party or government. But, they have been sidelined. The story of Dinesh Trivedy is well known. An Amit Mitra and Manish Gupta are non-entities in her scheme of things. She is the No 1, 2 and 3 of the party as people say of Sonia in the Congress (the cartoon below could have would be true of her as well - just that no cartoonist would dare lampoon her anymore). A leader must also have the time and patience to “listen”. But, she loves the sound of her own voice too much and is a narcissist when it comes to her own thoughts and ideas.
But, more dangerously - perhaps - she seems to believe she alone has all the answers. someone joked, after Tagore, Mamata is probably the most versatile personality in the history of modern Bengal . She is at once a politician, an administrator, an artist, a poet, a singer, a town-planner, an educationist. The list can go on.
She is not Caesar’s wife. She is (still) single
The last count on which she makes me extremely worried is corruption. All said and done – during the Left Front regime “corruption” was almost miniscule – as compared to the rest of the country. There is an apocryphal story about a late CPIM leader having gone to a non-resident Bengali tycoon, who had the reputation of being a ‘banker’ to many politicians, asking if would keep some of his money. It seems the tycoon told him – 'I don’t deal in small change, first learn to earn and then come to me".
This is changing very fast. And, perhaps unalterably so. It is common knowledge that Trinamool is breeding all pervading corruption in the system and her party workers and leaders are all on the take, trying to make a quick buck while it lasts. I don’t believe this is something Mamata is unaware of. Though personally, she may be unimpeachable (it would probably be an affront to her maidenhood to compare her with Caesar’s wife) – but, perhaps, she is helpless as this is a by-product of the political structure and organization she has created. But, if left unchecked this may come to haunt her soon.
Bengal at a cusp
In most marriages the ‘honeymoon’ lasts for some time. But, there are some in which the trauma and ordeal start from the nuptial night itself. This one seems to be like that. But, there are instances in which the most troubled relationships settle down over time and even give way to love. Let’s hope this turns out to be a case of the latter.
So, as I said at the start, it may be too early to put a ‘paid’ stamp on the Poriborton bill. Mamata (and, by association West Bengal) is standing at a cusp. From here things can go either way. With intelligence and some amount of wisdom and vision Mamata can check the secular decline of West Bengal and change its trajectory like Nitish has done to Bihar or Modi has been able to accelerate in Gujrat. The sad contra scenario could be, she would take it down like Lalu – not by her lack of integrity or intent (as Lalu had ) – but by sheer administrative incompetence.