The police have mortgaged its backbone to the ruling party goons. Unscrupulous realtors are out there fleece the people, because they themselves are victims of the mafia --- the ‘Syndicate’. Industrialists cannot operate unless they grease the palms of marauding cadres of the ruling party. The professors in the colleges live under the shadow of physical violence and death. Students who want to pursue credible higher studies prefer to leave the state. Women are not safe on the streets and recurring incidents of rapes are dismissed as stage-managed. Children are dying in the rickety government hospitals. Dissenting voices are stifled --- criticism of the ruling class is met with arrests. Unemployment is spreading like a cancer. And add to that the massive chit fund scams allegedly involving top leaders of the ruling echelon. Welcome to West Bengal. This is the much-vaunted ‘poriborton’ or ‘change’ that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has brought in the last five years in this eastern state.
For 34 years, the state of West Bengal reeled under the misrule of the Left Front which itself became the fief of the Communist Party of India-Marxist or CPI-M. The stranglehold of the Communists suffocated the otherwise gentle lot of West Bengal whose voting rights were snatched away repeatedly: rigging the elections at every level was a regular affair. From villages to state capital Kolkata, the goons flaunted their connections with CPI-M elements, the hallowed Comrades who talked about “revolution” and engineered dystopia. It seemed that there would be no end to this violence and murder of civility.
But then there was Mamata Banerjee --- the feisty lady from Kolkata’s Kalighat who first hogged the headlines by defeating senior CPI-M leader Somnath Chatterjee in 1984 Lok Sabha elections from Jadavpur constituency. Over the decades, it was in Mamata that Bengal saw hope; she was the one who battled the CPI-M thugs on the streets of Kolkata and was grievously injured. It was Mamata who was relentless in her opposition to the Communist butchery of democracy. Major or minor, there was not a single issue of public importance in which Mamata was not vocal, elevating her status as Bengal’s conscience. Her unyielding nature, particularly her dogged fight for the rights of farmers, sent ripples across the country. She stood like a rock alongside the displaced farmers of Singur who lost fertile land to a motor vehicles factory. In the end, the motor vehicles giant had to move out --- the hapless farmers of Bengal won.
Mamata gave us hope and Bengalees, across economic strata, rooted for her Trinamool Congress party. Mamata promised us the “change” that we all were seeking. Bengal was waiting for her. Finally, history was made in 2011 when the Communists were defeated in the Assembly polls --- the first free and fair election in decades. And Bengal erupted in joy --- the Communists were gone. “Good days are here again” or that’s what we all believed when Mamata took over as the chief minister of the near-bankrupt state which was once the most prosperous and advanced region in entire South Asia.
Yes, there was a change after she took over. Mamata got the city of Kolkata painted in blue and white as if to rid the metropolis of the grotesque history of Communist days. To be fair, she also effectively countered the menace of Maoist extremism in Bengal’s hinterland. But beyond that, there were just promises. We were told that the state capital would become as gorgeous as London; the farmers would be better off; the education system would be revamped; the law and order would be strengthened; industrialists would invest in the state; healthcare system would be world-class; and politics would be freed from the clutches of criminals. And we believed in her.
But we all know what happened later. It were the leaders of the ruling Trinamool Congress who pocketed crores of rupees by means of their dubious dealings in chit funds. The poor farmers of Bengal were left in lurch. The ‘Syndicate’ became a tool for the ruling outfit to collect cash. Crooked elements became friends of Trinamool ministers: the solemn oath they took while entering public office looked like a farce. Rapes became rampant; cadres of opposition parties were murdered; gang wars on streets of Bengal were back; and people were arrested for questioning Mamata’s style of governance. Mamata chose to tread the path of appeasement, playing the ‘minority’ card to the hilt. Large swathes became haven for Islamic terrorists who entered West Bengal from Bangladesh.
Elections in educational institutions became violent --- just as they used to be during the Left rule; and the ruling party poked its ugly nose in the affairs of the universities and colleges. The centres of excellence became centres of nepotism. Industries, whatever was left, began to exit and Mamata chose to blame it all on the media’s “conspiracy” to malign her administration. After the Sharada chit fund scam exploded on her face, Mamata found a new enemy --- the Centre under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So as West Bengal heads for yet another Assembly election this year, let us stop and ponder. Is this what we all want to continue? It’s true that there is not much of an alternative: the Left is not to be trusted again; the Congress state unit is not credible; the unworthy Bharatiya Janata Party is unlikely to attract the left-of-centre people of the state. So it seems, with the help of her violent cadres and a spineless police, Mamata will once again become the chief minister of West Bengal.
We hope that if she has an iota of conscience left, in her second term Mamata will make a course correction. And for that, people of West Bengal need to send a strong message to Mamata Banerjee and her nefarious henchmen. When we enter the polling booths next time across Bengal, we must tell Mamata that criminals, who have become part and parcel of her dispensation, will not be tolerated any more. We must remind Mamata that she can no longer take the trust of people for granted. People of Bengal have to make it clear to the chief minister that the unruly students pledging allegiance to the ruling party must be dealt with firmly. Law and order must be a priority and West Bengal cannot be turned into a killing field. Jobs must be created and infrastructure must be revamped.
Mamata Banerjee, who is now desperately wooing industrialists, must understand that it is easy to organise global business summits and claim that Bengal is shining. But in reality West Bengal is rotting. And if Mamata Banerjee and her government do not make a U-turn on this road to perdition, people of West Bengal will one day punish her, just the way they punished the Communist crooks. Then Mamata Banerjee will go down in history as one of the worst rulers that the region of Bengal ever had.