TMC spread thin

Communal violence tests the limits of its populist politics that cannot think beyond the immediate

Written by Ranabir Samaddar | Published: July 20, 2017 12:00 am
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Bengal Communal Violence, Gorkhaland Agitation, Bengal Violence, India News, Indian Express, Indian Express News West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (File Photo)

Judging by the way the media, particularly the national television channels, is describing the violence in West Bengal, it seems that the state is burning, and only the Centre’s intervention can restore normalcy. The actual violence in West Bengal and the hysteria around it together pose a challenge to the state’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. While she is known to be a street smart politician, Banerjee is caught in more than one difficult predicament: Tackling the BJP; taking a decision on deploying the full range of security forces in the trouble spots and dealing with the Centre’s aggressive postures. She has to decide if the current conflagration is a law and order problem or one that demands political solutions. Banerjee has to find ways to keep communal politics at bay. But should that be done by promoting tolerance and encouraging participation in various. Religious activities or should she adopt a policy of secularism and come down hard on fundamentalists?

Except in the Darjeeling hills where the torching and burning of government property has been a daily occurrence and four (according to some accounts, seven) people have died in the renewed Gorkhaland agitation — with the state police claiming it did not open fire — the actual violence has not been enormous. In Basirhat, in the first two days of communal trouble, houses were torched and one person died. The police, but more crucially the local people, brought the situation under control. Yet given the hysteria worked up on the ground, including by right-wing forces, one wonders how long the state government can keep on fire-fighting.

Clearly, the state government as well as the party in office in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), have not been adequately prepared to deal with the situation politically. In both Darjeeling and Basirhat, it faces a serious political challenge. The government will only harm itself if it is overconfident and does not augment its political preparedness. A measured response is the need of the hour. Herein lies the problem.

The TMC government is a populist government. It enjoys the confidence of the people because it has initiated several “pro-people” measures. The social churning in Bengal in the past seven to 10 years has thrown up many new leaders from the lower classes of society. This churning has also given rise to illegal elements. The TMC government is seen as anti-communal and has the support of minority groups. It has also been able to create a Bengali identity above caste, locality and religion. But the TMC’s politics remains thin, pragmatic, issue-oriented, minimal and tactical.

This is essentially a response of the lower classes to the ravages and uncertainties of globalisation. It does not, and cannot, think beyond the immediate. It cannot strategise administration, which remains largely informal, person-oriented, and, at times, direct. This is a politics untutored in formal modes. Herein lies its relevance as well as its grave limitation — particularly in light of the challenges it faces amid political and economic change.

This style of administration was evident in the way the chief minster announced the state’s new language policy. About a month and a half back, she suddenly declared that Bengali would be compulsorily taught in all schools in West Bengal. However, as if in a premonition of things to come, she added that West Bengal respected all languages — languages of all states — and the three-language formula of the state showed what the government really wanted. The announcement required greater consultation and deliberation. Given the conflict in the Darjeeling hills and the stand-off between the government and the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), more consultations with various segments of the society were required.

In a similar manner, on May 29, the CM suddenly declared that the government would hold some of its cabinet meetings in the Darjeeling hills. Amidst the tension and signs of renewal of the conflict, this announcement was seen as the government imposing its presence in the hills. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) was not informed officially. It was an administrative decision taken in a populist manner. The government’s intentions were good but the decision was taken without proper deliberation. It misfired.

Such sudden decisions also betray the government’s overconfidence. This is typical of populist politics, which is always sure of its efficacy and does not have any doubt as to whether the people — that mysterious category — may indeed think differently. The government became overconfident of its strength in the hills after the TMC won the last civic polls in Mirik, and did well in the civic elections in the hills. It thought that the moderates were on its side. But the government had pushed the GJM into a corner and the latter decided to strike back. Restoring stability in the hills will now be a difficult task.

The government faces a similar dilemma with respect to handling the aggressive forces that want to “save the endangered Hindus”. On the occasion of Ram Navami, they carried swords and other weapons in processions and dared the CM to take steps. With the government wary that any strong action may prove counterproductive, the political leaders of the Right were allowed to do as they liked. To make matters worse, in various places, TMC leaders organised Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti celebrations. This was a repeat of an old Congress practice: Soft communalism to counter extreme communalism. It never worked for the Congress. It will not work now.

An alert police force has, on several occasions, prevented a communal conflagaration. Yet the government has neither been firm nor exercised caution. In Basirhat, the people with the help from the administration regrouped to restore peace. But the government’s political and administrative preparedness left much to be desired. All this is exacerbated by the self-destructive desire of the TMC to be preponderant in every part of the state. This, in effect, destroys all chances of dialogue. The West Bengal government shows no sign of realising that the chief minister’s plebiscitary style does not always work. Developmental policies and populist measures alone cannot cope with the challenges of contentious politics. A government that does not have a road map to deal with such politics will face a tough time.

The writer is Distinguished Chair, Calcutta Research Group

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    O.P.Agarwal
    Jul 21, 2017 at 10:35 am
    Mamata Banerjee is a true street smart fighter, uncanny politician with her ears to the ground, a rabble rouser and an indomitable spirit and courage to fight for a cause, but she lacks quality of good governance badly needed to shore up the economy of West Bengal and ensure law and order in the State. Her continuous tirade against Modi and the Central Government can not catapult her into next prime ministerial role but only snatch from her, her most important possession today the chief ministership of West Bengal.
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      Thrinethran T
      Jul 21, 2017 at 4:07 am
      A diversionary essay from this " distinguished chair ", that is delusional like the communalist of a leader he seeks to counsel. Four major Islamist riots in a year, and he tries to convey that the protesting party is at fault, and should be clamped down upon, not the rioting Jihadis. So this man wants processions, protests and celebrations of Hindus banned, in order to placate the Mullahs who incite riots on the flimsiest pretext.
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        ak dev
        Jul 21, 2017 at 12:45 am
        TMC hatao BJP layo. Nothing else will work in WB.
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        1. M
          Mohit
          Jul 21, 2017 at 1:18 am
          Bengalis are not dumb like North Indians. Look what is happening in Uttar Pradesh which has turned into Criminal Capital of World with daily mass rapes, lynchings, murders, robberies, attacks on Dalits and Minority. UP is the first BJP ruled state where even Police officers are not safe. BJP ruled Jharkhand has become Lynching Capital of country. Only Dumbest people vote BJP to destroy their own state. In all non BJP ruled States like Karnataka, Orissa, Bihar, Punjab, puducherry, Tamil nadu all people are safe no matter what is their religion or caste. The cancer is prevailing on in BJP ruled states.
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          1. Riya Fucker
            Jul 21, 2017 at 2:59 am
            Oh really?That is why Bengal is the poorest and among the most backward BIMARU states !!!!Convince yourself first before commenting else u r doing a great injustice to the people of Bengal !!!
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              Ram
              Jul 21, 2017 at 3:10 am
              mullaji we are talking about Hindus in WB. Look what happened to Bengal, it was divided to create e-pak now Bangladesh and illegal muslims from there are pouring into Indian WB to make it again another unlivable islamist place! So Bengali Hindus are really stupid ones letting WB to become another islamic hole! After some time, like cowards they will runaway from WB to other parts of India to save them-self from islamists when muslim population in WB increases any further. That time Momota Begum have to really convert to islam to survive as TC will not be in power but some islamist party! For people like you wanting to fly green zenda atop red fort, of course BJP is big block! That is exactly the reason like UP BJP should be brought to power everywhere in India by Hindus to save their future generation from the fate of kashmiri Hindus or worst Yazdis!
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                Binny
                Jul 21, 2017 at 3:33 am
                Whole country is BIMARU under BJP. Some are sick due to Communalism and using their Religious Rituals such as Mob Lynchings for cure. You Sanghi Paid Troll think every thing is OK when BJP is in Power but even people life is not safe under BJP. Before BJP hide behind building Ram Mandir but never built and now Gau Mata while ten thousand gua matas die eating garbage/plastic every year while thousands dying in BJP ruled State Government Gaushala because of starvation. This is all GIMMICK and FRAUD to garner Votes with blood of innocents.
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                  Binny
                  Jul 21, 2017 at 3:41 am
                  "Mr. Muh May Ram Bagal Main Churi" You Paid Bhakt trolls spread lies and pretend everything to be perfect when BJP win with paid lies and propaganda of trolls and Media. Hindu and Muslims want to live in peace and 115 crore Majority Hindu population is full safe since 70 years for which RSS/BJP have been spreading propaganda for the last 55 years. It is minority muslims and Dalits facing daily Lynching of BJP Terrorists are not safe under Saffron Terror Jungle Raj. 15 crore Muslims are no match for majority and this fear mongering is for votes since last 55 years and proving lies. Muslims even slipped below Dalits in poverty and education during last 2 to 4 decades. Stop spreading lies for money.
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                    Thrinethran T
                    Jul 21, 2017 at 3:45 am
                    For three decades and a half, the Marxists ruled with thousands of acknowledged, but unprosecuted murders, industrial ruin and cultural destruction. Now this delusional lady has taken over and founded a vote-base on extremist Islam . If year-round rioting will not bestir the Bengalis from their dreamy slumbers, what will?
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                  Rajesh
                  Jul 21, 2017 at 12:44 am
                  With Communally Elected Government in power at Centre situation will be worse in coming time.
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                    V M
                    Jul 20, 2017 at 11:32 pm
                    Gor nd should be independent of Bengal politics poisoned for last 65 years by immoral and violent politics of con-gress, violent commies, scheming and corrupt TMC. The President should stop TMC and grant independent State or territory to Gorkhas.
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                      Mohan
                      Jul 21, 2017 at 12:47 am
                      It it will be separated out of West Bengal then next it may separate out of India and join China. Look into the future not present politics of revenge by BJP.
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