What happens when shocking behaviour is almost predictable? The shock value diminishes? Not in the case of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who brought drama and excitement to a television news channel last week by walking out in the middle of a shoot after describing members of the invited studio audience as Maoist and CPI (M) cadres. Worse, and more shockingly, she ordered police investigations against the students among the audience who had raised uncomfortable questions during the event. Yet, everything she did at the shoot fits in with her record of past behaviour, whether as an opposition leader or as the head of the government. The Trinamool Congress leader is known for moving quickly from one display of temper to another, from one act of defiance to another. But all the qualities she showed as an opposition street-fighter with only ordinary peasants and workers for supporters have taken on a sinister form now that the might of the law-enforcing machinery stands behind her. It is one thing to rail against the government when you are in the opposition, and quite another to lash out at ordinary citizens when you are in power. But sadly, Ms Banerjee, who was elected to office riding a popular mandate for reform and change, is unable or unwilling to see this difference and make the transition from resistance to governance.
Security officials at the Chief Minister's command are treated the same way as party workers waiting on her. Cases are ordered filed and investigations undertaken at her whims and fancies. The fracas at the CNN-IBN programme in Kolkata revealed an intolerant streak that was also evident when a professor was arrested for having sent e-mails lampooning her. For Ms Banerjee, every criticism of her is engineered by her principal political opponent, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Her way of discrediting critics, then, is to brand them as CPI (M) or Maoist supporters, forgetting conveniently that the two left groups are themselves at loggerheads. And once branded thus, in Ms Banerjee's assessment, the critics can have no cause for complaint about oppressive police action. The Chief Minister should realise that the media and ordinary citizens would necessarily subject a government to greater scrutiny than they would an opposition party. As the head of the government, Ms Banerjee should know that she is more accountable to the public than she has ever been before. If she does not change her ways, she will only have sycophants for company; everyone else will have been driven to the opposition camp.