IT has been just a little over a year since Mamata Banerjee became Chief Minister of West Bengal. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the media are on an overdrive to damn Mamata on the recent incident of police firing in West Bengal. They are reacting as though this is an isolated incident of police brutality. They are worried about the alleged deteriorating law and order, the state of the farmers, the health of the hospitals, education and so on.
The CPI (M) ruled the state for thirty-four years. Under them, West Bengal lost its advantage in all the sectors. The social fabric was torn to shreds by their party politics. Today West Bengal has the dubious reputation that was once enjoyed by the BIMARU states—high drop-out rates, low literacy levels, one of the high unemployment rates (it is over seven per cent whereas in Gujarat it is one per cent), health system at its worst as indicated by several statistics.
In a statement in 1997 the then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said in the state assembly that between 1977 (when Communists came to power) and 1996, 28,000 political murders were committed. (Mainstream, Vol. XLVIII, No 34, August 14, 2010—Census of Political Murders in West Bengal during CPI-M Rule-1977-2009; By D. Bandopadya). That roughly works out to a little less than 1,500 political murders a year. Coming from the Chief Minister, it must have been a highly moderated number.
Today, the Marxists are crying their guts out over an incident of police firing, forgetting their own track record on several Nandigrams. The 2007 National Sample Survey found that eleven per cent of families in Bengal faced starvation several months a year (Economic Times 17 May 2011). This is the highest in any state in India. West Bengal also had one of the highest drop out rates (80 per cent) in the country. The state of the minorities under the Communist rule has been highlighted by the Sachar Commission report. The Communists effectively used carrot and stick to win elections. Carrot to the cadre and sticks to those who defied. The ills of the Communist rule can fill several pages, though the press has been indulgently looking the other way.
Under Akhilesh Yadav, Uttar Pradesh is witnessing one of the most communal, criminal governance. As reported by Organiser communal riots are breaking out daily, with police being at best mute spectators. And yet, neither the opposition parties nor the media has highlighted it. The recent incidents of police firing on farmers over the cane prices in Maharashtra too was hardly criticised by the non-Congress opposition.
Mamata Banerjee, as pointed out recently by BJP leader L K Advani was single handedly responsible for the ouster of Communists from three and half decades of power in West Bengal. The Congress, her ally till recently was doing more a job of termite, trying to eat the wood from within. It was playing to the commands of the Communists in exchange for a few ‘safe’ seats for its leaders like Pranab Mukherjee. Mamata Banerjee deserves political support and a little patience from all.
She inherited an empty coffer, a corroded industry, a society that had been suppressed by the Red cadre terror and a system completely infiltrated by communists loyalists, fellow-travellers and sympathisers. It would not be surprising if it turns out that the police fired on the villagers at Nadia and elsewhere in the state only to besmirch her governance. The Indian police tends to be trigger-happy. There is no state in India where repeated police brutality has not been reported. But every time it does not evoke the kind of adverse political reaction that has been witnessed over West Bengal recently.
Mamata Banerjee does not have and never claimed to have magic potion that would transform West Bengal into a wonderland overnight. It is an arduous task. It would take all her commitment, calibre and political backing to make even a nominal headway. The Congress and the Communists are watching from the pavilion to see her trip and fall. We must not add chorus to it. Mamata Banerjee is one of those rare breed of politicians who have not made money-making their raison de’tre in politics. The country needs dozens like her. Beyond politics, there are the people of the state, thirsting to join the national mainstream in progress and prosperity. Let us give them a chance.