On February 3, 2019, two times Chief Minister of West Bengal and Chairperson of All India Trinamool Congress, Mamata Banerjee sat on a Dharna in Kolkata, essentially going back to where she started from – politics of protest and resistance.
As the nation heads into general elections, it becomes important to understand what Mamata Banerjee, often seen projecting herself as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the United Opposition stands for. Known for resorting to brazen appeasement and giving sanctuary to political violence by sheer inaction, Mamata Banerjee has frequently displayed dictatorial tendencies and advocated measures that are a far cry from the very ethos of democracy.
A quick look at all those instances when democracy was undermined by Mamata Banerjee:
- BJP President, Shri Amit Shah was to address a rally at Malda, West Bengal. However, his helicopter was refused landing permission on grounds of ongoing maintenance work. This is strange, since just few days before the BJP President’s visit, Mamata Banerjee herself made a smooth landing at the very spot. Yogi Adityanath was denied a rally too rather arbitrarily. Such repeated attempts to muzzle the voice of Opposition reveals the innate dictatorial instincts in Mamata Banerjee’s style of leadership.
- When two students were shot in broad daylight at Islampur in North Dinajpur in September 2018 for protesting against the appointment of a teacher, Mamata Banerjee once again dismissed the issue as a concoction of RSS-BJP political agenda, reaffirming her image as one who couldn’t care less for loss of human lives.
- In July 2018: It was a new low for Indian democracy, when an elected lawmaker used furore over Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) which could even whip up civil war. As an elected Chief Minister, she is supposed to be maintaining law and order, not inciting a crisis.
- Even before in the same year, it was alleged that the State Election Commission was arm-twisted by Mamata-led government in West Bengal during the Panchayat polls. Reportedly, the constitutional body was forced to withdraw an earlier decision to extend the time for filing nominations. The Calcutta High Court’s decision to suspend the Panchayat poll process in West Bengal indicates that there was merit in allegations of the TMC cadre trying to prevent opposition candidates from even filing the nomination papers. More than 10 lives were lost in the Panchayat polls violence.
- Then in 2017, Mamata Banerjee’s government in West Bengal restricted Durga Puja idol immersion to 10 pm on Vijaya Dasami. This decision was taken because the following day was to be observed as Muharram in the state. For many, this was an infringement on the fundamental right to practice religion. The High Court obviously snubbed the TMC Government for its overreach and pulled up the leadership for setting such inflammable precedence.
- Earlier in 2016, By calling a data collection exercise by the army at toll plazas a ‘coup’, not only the Chief Minister dragged the men in uniform in muckraking politics, but also undermined the importance of an annual exercise to survey the security conditions of the nation. How can a Chief Minister be irked by the very presence of army is beyond common wisdom.
- In 2016 itself, when mobs took to the streets of Malda and set a police station on fire, it was a clear case of civil unrest in West Bengal. It merited an immediate intervention of the leadership. However, in a rally, the Chief Minister of the state called it nothing more than a ‘small trouble’, which according to her was being exaggerated into a ‘riot’ by the BJP.
- In April 2014, Mamata Banerjee waged a war against the constitutional framework when she dared the Election Commission to arrest her. This was against the backdrop of the Commission’s decision, well within its authority, to order transfer of certain officials from the state.
- In 2013, Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) government began paying a monthly stipend to Muslim clerics (Imam Batta). State resources were being deployed to further her political interests, without thinking of the social or economic implications of such initiatives. In 2014, the Kolkata High Court declared paying salaries of Imams and Muazzins from government funds unconstitutional.
- In 2013, when Sudipto Gupta, leader of Students Federation of India (SFI) died in police custody, Mamata trivialized the loss of young life by dubbing it as a “petty” and “small” matter.
- In 2012, during a televised interaction, a student of political science at the premier Presidency College, asked Banerjee an uncomfortable question related to violence against women in the state. Not only did she refuse to answer the young student, she also labeled her as a Maoist and a CPM cadre member. She even intimidated her by asking the police to do a background check on those asking awkward questions.
Apart from these, she refused to be a part of Niti Aayog’s Governing Council meeting on account of Eid, did not take responsibility for reported security lapses at the PM’s rally at Ashoknagar in North 24 Parganas, and has even refused implementation of Ayushmaan Bharat in West Bengal. By using political violence as a tool to intimidate and vanquish opposition, she has made it clear to both, the electorate and her political ilk that she is there in politics, not to bring positive transformation, but to ensure that she remains the only one in the game.
It is outright ironical when she calls the existing regime of BJP ‘super dictatorship’. Especially in reality when she is the one who craves for a zero-opposition regime in West Bengal in a pluralistic and inclusive country such as India.