BJP Should Learn from Mamata’s Mistakes
BJP has moved into the Opposition space in West Bengal. But to make a real impact on the minds of the twice-bitten people of the state, it has to go much beyond just opposing Mamata and exposing her faults.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal finds itself in quite the same position that Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress was in around the final years of the last decade. In 2006, the Left Front had captured power in the state with a thumping majority, but soon enough, Singur and Nandigram catalyzed the latent disillusionment among people with decades of Left misrule in the state. Misgovernance, nepotism, corruption, brazen arrogance and the dictatorship of the party machinery that forced the masses into submission were the prime factors that led to the Trinamool sweeping the Assembly elections in 2011.
But it had taken 34 long years for people’s anger and disgust with Left misrule to crystalize and result in its banishment from power and Bengal’s collective imagination. This longevity—unmatched in the history of Indian politics—was thanks to the formidable party machinery which was the Left’s prime arsenal.
There are many parallels between 2006 and 2011. In both these Assembly polls, the mandate was decisive. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee offered fresh hope to Bengal’s masses and promised to change the way things were being run in the state. He was seen as a man of action, clean and efficient, and keen to take on even his own party to usher in development for Bengal.
Bhattacharjee seemed to promise a clean break from the past and Bengal’s masses saw in him a man who could lift the state out of the morass that it had sunk into. Thus, of the 294 Assembly seats in the state, the Left won 233 and the Trinamool a mere 30, followed closely by the Congresss with 24 seats.
Unfortunately for Bengal, Bhattacharjee squandered away the wonderful opportunity he had been given. Power went to his head and, like the true Communist he ultimately revealed himself to be, relied on his party’s ‘harmads’ (a term given to CPM’s armed rogues by Mamata Banerjee) to enforce his will in the name of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.
Singur and Nandigram followed, and protests over forcible acquisition of land by the government for industries, which were met with brutal suppression by police and the CPM’s ‘harmads’, left the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government totally discredited soon after coming to power. Disillusionment set in and the Bhattacharjee bubble burst. Unsurprisingly, the 2011 polls proved disastrous for the Left: it won just 61 seats while the Trinamool won 184, a gain of 154 seats. The CPM itself, which had won 176 seats in 2006, bagged just 40 in 2011.
Bhattacharjee even lost his own seat, to the former Chief Secretary of his government, Manish Gupta.
As in 2006, in 2011, too, people voted overwhelmingly for change. They saw in Mamata Banerjee a person who could bring about a dramatic transformation of Bengal. She was seen as incorruptible, clean and one who genuinely had the interests of the masses at heart. She well-deserved the respect she earned for having waged a long, and often lone, battle against the Left and its policies which left Bengal bankrupt.
Mamata, living in a tiled-roof hut in a lower middle class neighbourhood in south Kolkata and clad in cotton sarees and rubber sandals, became an epitome of virtue who shone in stark contrast to the grubby power-drunk politicians swearing by an ideology long past its relevance.
But, like Buddhadeb, Mamata too turned out to be a huge disappointment. Her warts started showing very soon. Starting with her terming the infamous Park Street rape case a “fabricated incident aimed at maligning her and Bengal”, she quickly revealed herself as intemperate, ill-tempered, ill-informed on matters of governance, intolerant of dissent and lacking in the most basic skills required of a Chief Minister.
What made matters worse for her was the conduct of her party leaders who soon became bywords of corruption, nepotism, dadagiri and much more. Her party workers ran amok and started indulging in brazen acts of threat, intimidation and extortion. They gained enough courage to flout the law, abuse and even attack the police inside police stations.
Builders, industrialists and businessmen were being held hostage to their whims and exorbitant demands. Mamata did nothing to stop them and, in fact, even stood by them. Thus emboldened, they became much bigger rogues than even the CPM cadres. If Mamata used to accuse the Marxists of undermining state institutions and reducing the bureaucracy and police to adjuncts of the CPM party machinery, she can be held guilty of the same and even more so. She, and most of her colleagues, lack administrative skills and run their departments on their whims and fancies. And, thus, large sections of the electorate that had brought her to power with such high hopes feel terribly let down.
But the shameful manner in which Mamata, and her ministerial and party colleagues, have conducted themselves over the past three and half years should not really come as any surprise. For the simple reason that Mamata captured power on only one plank: oppose and remove the Left from power.
So disgusted were the people of Bengal with 34 years of Left misrule that they blindly supported Mamata Banerjee without realizing that apart from exiling the Left from power, she never really offered anything else to them. She had no other agenda and even her election manifesto contained only vague promises of development and progress. She did not have any roadmap for Bengal’s development, she did not spell out any specific plans for the state. She never talked about what exactly she intends to do. All that she offered was impossible dreams like turning Kolkata into London.
Few in Bengal even cared to scrutinize Mamata’s performance as Union Railway Minister while electing her to power; had they done so, they would have realized that she lacked crucial administrative skills and nearly brought the mammoth government organization—and the lifeline of the country—to its knees. But no such scrutiny was undertaken because people just wanted to see the Left out of power. Whoever came to power, thought the people of Bengal, would be better than the Left which was seen to have sunk to the lowest levels of political immorality. Mamata proved them wrong.
With the Left standing thoroughly discredited even now, and the Congress being long reduced to irrelevance in Bengal, it is the BJP which has moved into the Opposition space and stands to gain the most from the anti-Trinamool sentiment that has started taking roots.
And this is where the BJP should learn from Mamata’s mistakes and not repeat them. Opposing Mamata is fine and absolutely necessary. Exposing her faults, her misdeeds, her lack of administrative skills and the corruption, the ‘goondagardi’ of Trinamool goons is necessary. But what is more important is drawing up a detailed roadmap for Bengal’s progress and development that ought to be rich in specifics and should contain specific targets and timelines to achieve them.
The BJP should also guard against embracing all and sundry who want to join the party. When the winds of change started blowing across Bengal a few years ago, many opportunistic workers and supporters of the CPM, and the ‘harmads’ it used to patronize, flocked to the Trinamool. They have done the most damage to the Trinamool and they are the ones who will again seek to switch over to the BJP.
In its enthusiasm for increasing its membership, the BJP ought to exercise caution and stop itself from taking these notorious and hated elements under its wings. The BJP has to show itself as a disciplined, clean, ideology-driven party whose leaders and members are incorruptible and possess administrative and governance skills and who can take Bengal out of the depths it has been sunk into by the Left and then the Trinamool.
Only then will the twice-bitten people of Bengal feel confident of wholeheartedly supporting the BJP.
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