News Analysis: Trappings of power have yet to tame the street-fighter

Updated - July 12, 2016 02:21 am IST

Published - May 20, 2012 02:10 am IST - KOLKATA

Dominating public discourse in West Bengal is how far Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who stormed to power a year ago, has been successful in delivering on the high expectations she had raised with her call for paribartan, a term that with all its added connotations has found its way into the local political lexicon.

Ms. Banerjee has claimed that but for an odd area where some more is left to be done, her government has completed five years' work in just one year and has lived up to every commitment she made before assuming office.

Advertising a government's achievements on its first anniversary is expected but if stretched beyond a point how seriously can it be taken?

Her assertions, highly exaggerated though, come at a time when the very quality of governance of the Trinamool Congress-led government is under scrutiny. Which way is the much-vaunted paribartan h eaded?

“Reverse direction,” argue leaders in the Left even as Ms. Banerjee publicises her achievements. She claims that her government has arranged for six lakh jobs, attracted investment proposals worth Rs. 95,000 crore and implemented several initiatives for the backward regions as well as minorities.

Ms. Banerjee's oft-repeated claim is restoration of normality in both the Maoist-affected Jangalmahal region and the Darjeeling Hills, within months of her assuming office. There may be a tenuous calm in these regions but developments there have far from borne out the sweeping claim.

The signing of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) agreement has not put the lid on the demand for a separate State but only precipitated a volatile situation in the Terai and Dooars in north Bengal where different ethnic groups are at loggerheads over the territorial jurisdiction of the proposed set-up.

In Jangalmahal, there may have been a lull in Maoist violence since the killing of Communist Party of India (Maoist) Polit Bureau member Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji in November 2011 but recent intelligence reports speak of the ultras not just regrouping there but also setting up new bases in north Bengal.

After her first Cabinet meeting, Ms. Banerjee announced that 400 acres of land acquired for the Tata Motors small car factory in Singur would be returned to farmers. But with the issue embroiled in litigation, one of the most important poll promises of the Trinamool is in limbo.

Haunted by the spectre of conspiracy against her at every turn, Ms. Banerjee is dismissive of any criticism — whether from political adversaries, the media or human rights groups. If, as has been the case on one occasion, the barb takes the form of an e-mail with a graphic directed at her jocularly, she perceives it as an attempt at character assassination. When attacked, her response has often bordered on the paranoid.

Whether it is farmers' suicide or incidents of alleged rape, the Chief Minister is in denial mode, alleging that these are merely attempts by either the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or a section of the media “to malign my government.”

In her first year in office, Ms. Banerjee's bonhomie with the media has certainly soured, reaching its nadir when a government order was issued restricting the subscription of newspapers in libraries run, aided or sponsored by the State to a prescribed list. She even asked the people to watch entertainment channels, instead of news channels “which spread canards” against her government.

The trappings of power have yet to tame the street-fighter instincts that guided her when she was in the Opposition.

Authority seems to have only heightened her aggressiveness, much in evidence when it comes to blaming the Centre for not bailing her government out of the fiscal distress it finds itself in. Her common refrain is that while her government's annual revenue is Rs 21,000 crore, it has to spend Rs. 22,000 crore in debt servicing. But fiscal constraints have not prevented Ms. Banerjee from jacking up by more than 100 per cent the budgetary outlay for the Information and Cultural Affairs department, even as she has set her sights on putting her seal on the cultural space.

Surely the “ma, mati, manush” government has more to offer as it steps into its second year.

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