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Mamta Banerjee: from clean politics to Syndicate crime

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Mamta Banerjee Wikimedia Commons
  • By Saeed Naqvi

A senior BJP leader, campaigning in Kolkata, may well have put his finger on the people’s pulse.

When he attacked Mamata Banerjee and the Left-Congress Front in equal measure, the crowd response was tepid. But when he attacked the Trinamool Congress (TMC) for 60 per cent of his speech, people applauded. At 75 percent, there was thunderous applause.

This was at the earlier phases of polling, but there is no reason to believe that the trend will change before counting day.

In fact, if the violence witnessed during the earlier phases continues, and the stuffing of ballot boxes by ‘ghost’ voters after polling hours multiplies, it will become clear that the TMC is nervous. It is brazening it out through violence, which has now become associated with Mamata’s party in the popular imagination.

Does this mean there was no violence during 34 years of CPI-M rule?

A left liberal intellectual explains it succinctly: “CPI-M was more disciplined because it was cadre based; cadres knew the area and its leaders, the ones who had to be attacked. TMC goons who have grown during the five years of TMC rule, enter areas they may not know and attack everybody. There is, therefore, much more bloodshed.” There is universal fear.

“Laat khayega ki biryani khayega (Would you like to be kicked or served biryani?) An “aabdar” or barman at one of Kolkata’s many clubs, mimics the TMC’s neighbourhood tough. Aabdar is derived from Urdu – one who serves drinks.

“This time we are quiet, but we shall show our hands at the polling booth.” He is clearly among the urban Muslims still loyal to the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). Otherwise Muslims across the board have no grievance with the Mamata.

Mamata Banerjee Wikimedia Commons
Mamata Banerjee Wikimedia Commons

 

In fact, they quite adore her for the way she created an almighty movement in West Bengal on the land issue in Singur and Nandigram between 2006 and 2007. In both these efforts at industrialization by the CPI-M, poorest Muslims, among others, would have lost their livelihood and property, “had Didi not intervened”.

That is where she hit the political jackpot. She had lost the 2006 assembly poll but she used Singur and Nandigram as fulcrums to turn her fortunes around. She won 70 per cent of the 54,000 Panchayat seats in 2008. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Left Front came down to 15 seats from 42 in 2004. In 2014, they had only two seats. Mamata won 38.

Now comes the “vote share” punditry on which those who wish to see the back of Mamata in Bengal base their calculations.

Even at her peak Mamata’s vote share was only 40 per cent. The CPI-M was 30 per cent and Congress, 10. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have won just two seats but its vote share was 17 percent.

A very arithmetical argument is: CPI-M’s 30 percent and Congress 10 makes the alliance equal to Mamata’s 40. The question is: Which way will the BJP’s 17 per cent split?

In a complex sociological turf, arithmetic is inadequate to accurately calculate electoral outcomes. To this comes a quick riposte. In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav held onto his vote bank. After the Nitish Kumar-BJP combination ran its course, it was the Nitish-Lalu combination that triumphed.

Through grit, courage and a refusal to lose, once Mamata ascended the gaddi, she faced her biggest challenge: How to cope with the CPI-M cadres?

Mamta’s gift to West Bengal: Syndicate crime

Violent tactics to overcome this handicap has become a strategy. Willy nilly she must keep riding the tiger. A group of thugs, cheering her along. Some of these cheering goons have formed an irregular system of co-operatives, called syndicates.

Imagine the new, garish, multi-storeyed buildings near Kolkata airport. Obviously, land has been acquired. “Land losers” have been given a novel compensation. They will supply all the materials used in the buildings. The infection has spread. No enterprise can take to wing without the syndicate’s “blessings”.

A senior Bengali academic from the US, confident that many in Mamata’s administration had once been his students, returned to Kolkata to have his ancestral house repaired. Work progressed until one day a dozen peak-capped TMC volunteers materialized. How had work begun without their knowledge?

The professor and his wife called up a powerful minister, their student. The minister said he was helpless because the syndicate operated on the directives of a different minister.

This system has replaced the Left cadres. Indeed, out-of-job cadres have switched sides and joined the syndicate system. There is great consternation all around.

Obviously, there is loss of support for her. This explains the conventional wisdom across the board: She will return with a vastly reduced margin.

If it is generally accepted that she is on a down-hill slope, who can say with certainty where she may land?

She will, however, not lose support among Muslims who are over 30 per cent of the state’s population. Talk to Samsuzaman Ansari, local leader in Matia Burj, where Awadh’s last Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, was exiled by the British in 1856, and he will list all that Didi has done for the community.

Did not the Left Front government also give them protection? Yes, they gave us protection but they also gave us a mantra:

“Gai ka gosht khaao/CPI-M ke geet gaao”

(Eat beef to your heart’s content; but sing the CPI-M’s praises). That was all.

There is populism all around. She has improved on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa’s rural schemes – not just Rs.2 per kg of rice but even gold bangles for girls.

For the Left Front and the Congress this could well be their last battle for survival in the state. They have joined hands in Bengal even though they are in direct conflict in Kerala. There may be no morality in all of this, but is it practical commonsense? (IANS)

(A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on saeednaqvi@hotmail.com. The views expressed are personal)

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After 74-day Struggle, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa Loses Battle with Life

Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, one of India's most charismatic political leaders, died here on Monday night after a bitter 74-day battle for life, ending an era in Tamil Nadu politics

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Tamil Nadu CM J. Jayalalithaa passes away. Twitter

December 6, 2016: Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, one of India’s most charismatic political leaders, died here on Monday night after a bitter 74-day battle for life, ending an era in Tamil Nadu politics and plunging the state in deep grief. She was 68.

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Jayalalithaa, a spinster, breathed her last at the Apollo Hospitals just before midnight, over 24 hours after she suffered a cardiac arrest that derailed the halting progress she had been making on the health front.

“It is with indescribable grief, we announce the sad demise of our esteemed Honourable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Puratchi Thalaivi Amma at 11.30 p.m.,” the hospital said in a statement.

As Jayalalithaa’s death became known, a loud wail rent the air outside the Apollo hospital where thousands had gathered since her cardiac arrest on Sunday evening, hoping against hope that she would survive.

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Her body was taken to her residence at Poes Garden, where hundreds of AIADMK cadre were present. Police used batons to keep inconsolable mourners away who tried to break the security barricades outside their leader’s house.

The body will be kept at the Rajaji Hall for people to pay their respects, said the AIADMK, which the actor-turned-politician headed for nearly three decades after the death of her mentor and Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran or MGR.

The last rites will be held at the Marina Beach later on Tuesday.

As national leaders expressed grief, the Tamil Nadu government declared a seven-day mourning. Schools and colleges in the sprawling state will be closed for three days.

In no time, the AIADMK legislators elected Finance Minister and long-time Jayalalithaa loyalist O. Panneerselvam to succeed the departed leader.

Shortly after 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Panneerselvam took the oath of office and secrecy. Thirty-one ministers were also sworn-in with him.

A veteran actor, the self-made Jayalalithaa, who was five times Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was admitted to the Apollo hospital on September 22 with fever and dehydration, just four months after she led the AIADMK to triumphantly retain power in assembly elections.

At one time it seemed she was on the road to recovery but that proved to be an illusion.

President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in paying homage to Jayalalithaa, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha at the start of her political career.

In his lengthy message, Mukherjee described Jayalalithaa as “one of India’s most charismatic and popular leaders … a visionary and (an) able administrator…

“She was progressive in her thought and pro-active in pursuing the issues that were close to her heart, such as the empowerment of women and welfare of children.

“Her life was dedicated to the socio-economic transformation of Tamil Nadu and its people. Her contribution to the progress and development of Tamil Nadu will be long remembered.”

Modi, who enjoyed a personal rapport with Jayalalithaa, said her demise had left a huge void in Indian politics.

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Defining her as a mass leader, Modi said: “Jayalalithaaji’s connect with citizens, concern for welfare of the poor, the women and marginalised will always be a source of inspiration.”

Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who too had counted the AIADMK leader as an ally for years, said Jayalalithaa lived the entire life with the same “indomitable courage with which she battled her last illness”.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called her “popular, strong, bold, efficient, people-friendly, charismatic leader”.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar described her death as “very saddening”. He announced a day’s mourning in his state.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted: “Very sad to hear the demise of Amma. A very very popular leader. Aam Aadmi’s leader. May her soul rest in peace.”(IANS)

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China keen to strengthen Sino-Bengal ties

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Kolkata: In a bid to further the Sino-Bengal bilateral ties, China has expressed eagerness to invest in West Bengal.

“China is interested in investing in infrastructure development, tourism and auto hub and also considering to set up an economic investment zone,” said West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with a delegation led by Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao yesterday, She further said, China has assured to work closely with Bengal. The 12-member delegation included four ministers from China.

Li Yuanchao disclosed during the meeting that China has chosen West Bengal as their first preferred destination for investment.

“I requested the vice president to send a strong business delegation to the Bengal Global Business Summit in January 2016 to which he responded very positively,” Banerjee told reporters.

Li  also visited Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestral house at Jorasanko, which is now part of the Rabindra Bharati university campus.

West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi hosted a lunch in honour of the visiting leader.

(Picture Courtesy:www.indianexpress.com)