[From my column Obviously Opaque in the UTS Voice 01-15th June]
Mamta Banerji, the quintessential angry but not so young woman of Indian politics, had finally discovered something to cheer about. And if she had decided to cheer , who in her senses could stop her? Those who know concede that stopping Arnab Goswami, the other self designated conscience keeper of the Indian middle classes is a task much easier than stopping Mamta di. After all, Arnab has mastered just the art of making a fortune out of getting obnoxiously offended about anything, in fact, even about nothing sometimes. Didi is a step up. She has mastered the art of getting obnoxiously offended not only for no reasons but also for nothing in returns.
Didi, however, was very happy this time with the victory of Kolkata Knight Riders in the fifth chapter of Indian Pirates Leagues. Or is it Indian Premier League? Whatever it is, one does tend to agree with Ramchandra Guha, one of the finest social historians of cricket in our country, that IPL is bad for everything- cricket, capitalism and democracy alike. Mamtadi, however, will have none of that. The victory of KKR has taken attention away from her government, rather the absence of it, and she was more than happy for that. She was indebted.
So she decided to felicitate the team, and its owners. Yes, Owners! As a matter of fact, and also for the uninitiated, KKR is not a team rooted in Kolkata or any public body thereof. It is a corporate entity based in Mumbai and is owned by a corporate conglomerate that includes Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan of ‘only Shahrukh and sex sells’ fame and yesteryears heartthrob Juhi Chawla. The captain of KKR does not belong to Kolkata either. He is from Delhi and represents it in the Ranji matches. So are many other players who collectively form KKR and were bought, through open auctions, by the ‘owners’ of KKR. But who in her senses, as I asked earlier, will tell Mamtadi about any of that?
So she, the self designated champion of the downtrodden or ma, mati and manush in her own words, decided to felicitate the Kolkata Knight Riders and that she decided to do with aplomb. She gifted gold chains to the players, which were bought from the hard earned money of the taxpayers. The players must have surely heaved a sigh of relief for the only other thing she could have gifted them were the signature cotton sarees and the rubber slippers she has been wearing since times immemorial. Her next act came up as an even bigger shocker when she pretended to dance with the players and the owners, Shahrukh and Juhi in this case. Ever enthusiastic to assert her authority, and perhaps also for satiating the dictatorial instincts she hardly hides, she snatched the loudspeakers and started donning the role of a traffic controller all on her own.
As expected, when confronted with the question of legitimacy of spending public money on such worthless propaganda for a private corporate group, she flayed all and sundry with gutso. In fact there was widespread shock and disbelief over the fact that she did not blame KKR’s dismal performance in earlier versions on CPIM!
This has been the only constant that has defined her governance after taking the reins of West Bengal from the communists a year ego. Since then the only time she has stood on the right side of the people’s feelings, even if not aspirations is this felicitation of KKR. Poor Marx, the newfound enemy of Mamtadi, would have amended his ideas of the world had he known that religion does not remain as the only opiate of the masses. Sports, cricket on top of that, is the new opiate of the masses.
And then, she did what she does the best. She got the fans of the corporate entity KKR masquerading as Kolkata’s very own pride lathicharged. Their fault? Oh, nothing more than the fact they stood on the wrong side of Didi’s dreaded mood swings. Punishing those who support her is nothing strange for Mamtadi in any case. No one knows this better than the Maoists, and depending on your choice of words, their martyred or killed leader Kishenji. Ironically, the choice of the epitaph in Mamtadi’s West Bengal depends less on one’s ideological inclinations and more on the said person’s utilitarian value in Mamtadi’s scheme of things. Same Kishenji, together with his trusted army of Maoist cadres was a liberator of the masses for Mamtadi in the CPIM’s Bengal. He wanted to see Mamta as the ‘next’ chief minister of Bengal and played quite a role in that. She too had no qualms against Kishenji’s wishes.
The wish was quite in tunes with the wishes of the confirmed democrat that Mamtadi is. So she used the Maoists, quite democratically, for ‘sanitising’ the area of CPIM cadres. Those who dared to stay back and protest were maimed and killed. Thanks to these democratic designs of Mamtadi, Trinamool Congress has got almost a walkover and was soon catapulted to the power. Then it was the time for Mamtadi to pay back for she is not known as one to keep favours. Kishenji was soon eliminated as a dreaded Maoist. That he was brutally tortured before getting killed is beside the point.
Soon Mamtadi realized to her horror that wresting the power was but the easiest part of the task she had assigned for herself. It did not take her much time to learn that governance needs much more than deploying her lung power at hapless law enforcers. It needs policymaking, planning and then a keenly supervised implementation of them. Policies! That was Greek to her ears. As an alternative, she harped on the way to invent opiates, new opiates for the masses. For example, not content with Calcutta being turned into Kolkata long ago, she proposed West Bengal being renamed as Paschim Banga, a proposal that did not cut much ice with the people. The fact that she did not blame more than ninety percent of the state’s population as closet members of that strange, and impossible, alliance called Marxists and Maoists came as an absolute shocker to the people.
That could not stop her, though, to blame almost every other thing on the Marxists, Maoists and then whoever crossed her mind at that particular moment. Seeing Iran, North Korea and Venezuela clubbed with the CPIM and the Maoists was no more impossibility, even if it defied all logic and in fact even the very idea of that.
Logic. The word has perhaps been reinvented by Mamtadi with strange and subverted meanings. That’s why she could dub a case of gangrape as a CPIM hatched conspiracy to destabilize her government even without a preliminary inquiry. Even more startling subversion of logic was demonstrated by Mamtadi’s curious reading of the cartoons. She had read, among all other things, a blueprint of a conspiracy to bump her off!
Mamtadi has, perhaps, the shrillest voice possible and she has never wasted an opportunity of displaying that. Ok, I concede that Arnab will give her a rather tough competition on that count. Arnab has an advantage as well. Being the most vulnerable to getting offended mediaperson India has ever produced, he has the luxury of shouting all his life. A Chief Minister cannot do the same, or we thought that way till Mamtadi took over the reins of West Bengal.
Criticize her and she would get angry and hostile. Criticize her and she would get a thousand charges slapped on you. Question her and she would dub one as a Marxist or a Maoist or whatever else. But ask her about Nandigram, or Singur and one gets a silence that could befit the sages that crowd the pages of Hindu scriptures with all those tales of their vows of silences. Ask her about the land struggles and she would drop the bomb of the matter being subjudice. Yet, the same didi would storm out of a live chat show being held by a leading news channel if someone from the audience confronts her with uncomfortable questions. She would not stop on that though.
She would accuse the students of having links with CPIM irrespective of the fact that the CPIM has not been banned/illegalized, at least till I am writing this piece, and having its membership is not a crime therefore. And then, she would instruct the local police to ‘look into’ the ‘antecedents’ of these students! Now that’s what is called a police state. A police state that seems to be far worse than all CPIM and its dreaded Harmad Vahinis could achieve. She has succeeded in achieving something more as well. It’s perhaps for the first time in Indian history that a full year of a Chief Minister is known for all the wrong reasons ranging from Park Street Rape, selective ban on the newspapers, controversies over cartoons, unceremonious exit of Dinesh Trivedi, erstwhile confidante of Momtadi from the union cabinet, arrests of professors and blanket ban on any protest demonstrations. It’s not for nothing that Mahashweta Devi, earlier a supporter of hers, has called her state a fascist state.