Understanding Mamata

Written by  //  May 22, 2011  //  National Politics  //  10 Comments

With the fall of its thirty four year old regime and the silent slaughter of its local cadres that has sadly escaped media attention, the CPI(M) has withdrawn into an introspective mode. It is a humiliating defeat but it is a telling defeat.

Rajdeep Sardesai asked Brinda Karat if this defeat marks the redundancy of Left ideology and she coolly told him he was being very stupid. The capitalist crisis has shown us that bubbles are the modus operandi of growth in capitalism and that busts are systemic. Stark inequalities of income in India as in capitalist development everywhere, have reminded us that even if you put moral and ethical questions aside, trickle down doesn’t work –and what is the point of a growth that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer? The economy has grown on the backs of cheap and cheaper labour –contractualisation has ensured that 92% of the labour force gets less than the minimum wage and “hire and fire” means poor and dangerous work conditions that no one can even protest. Can Marxism be dead in times like these? Brinda Karat was right. It was not a ‘redundancy’ of its ideology that led to the CPI(M)’s defeat.

Is it bad governance? It is difficult for a Left loyalist to admit this but after thirty four years, the people wanted a change of government. They wanted efficiency. When the mainstream media talks about the inefficiency of the Left, it forgets the achievements of the West Bengal government. The index of industrial output is surprisingly very high as is the index of agricultural productivity. West Bengal is one of the few States that had taken land reform seriously. And yet, when I had travelled into the West Bengal countryside, I had noticed that towns less than four hours away from Kolkata have no electricity. The people of West Bengal wanted a change. Mamata rode this desire for change with a call for ‘poriborton’. Meanwhile, college Leftists like me snorted. A change that would put Bengal on the same neoliberal growth trajectory as any other State is hardly a ‘Revolution’. But Mamata saw that the time was right and that as the people looked hard for an alternative, she rose to the task.

The real reason for the CPI(M)’s defeat was the presence of this alternative- Mamata.

But who is this Mamata? As the results of the polls poured in, a jubilant Barkha Dutt interviewed women coloured in green gulal. Dutt emphasised the point that Mamata Bannerjee’s supporters spanned across class and gender and she was right. What her report lacked, however, was an understanding of ‘how’.

When you think about it, it has hard to put the Trinamool Congress on a political spectrum.

Does it promote the interests of big business? Mamata once made a declaration that she will make Kolkata into London and Digha into Goa (or was it Singapore?) While the Central Government is happier making bigger grants in aid to West Bengal under Mamata rather than under the CPI(M), with the fiscal responsibility Act, it is unlikely that she will be able to undertake such wide-scale beautification projects without making it easier to attract investment. So Mamata may easily be pro big business.

Is she pro working class? The Trinamool Congress runs its fair share of trade unions but on and off, Mamata has made statements about how strikes are a bad idea. The Trinamool Congress may have a difficult time inviting private investment with the Bengalis’ reputation of being lazy workers and frequent strikers. I will not be surprised if Mamata bans strikes in the near future. So is she pro working class? She has definitely got large parts of the working class on her side but it is not likely that she will take issues of labour very seriously –especially, given her ‘poriborton’ plans.

One of the key factors in Mamata’s appeal amongst the more snobbish Bengali middle class is that she has often mentioned that student political organisations should be disbanded. Students should stick to their studies instead of going around making a nuisance of themselves. This attitude is an undemocratic attitude in that it denies students the democratic right to take political positions. It is characteristic of a view of education as a machine to create professionals to serve the system rather than to create intelligent, thinking people who are not afraid to challenge the system, to ask dangerous questions and to serve as organic intellectuals of the masses.

This is why people from all classes tend to support Mamata –the snobbish middle classes see that their children will focus on studies and on building safe careers, the working classes see an alternative to the CPI(M) which may prove more efficient and works in much the same way at least as far as labour unions go, the upper classes see a chance for more business friendly policies. All in all, Mamata reminds people that she is efficient.

The biggest chunk of Trinamool rhetoric is the restoration of Bengal to its former glory –a very good way to get the proud, parochial Bengalis to stand up to support the Trinamool Congress. A little before she became CM, Mamata renamed the Tollygunj station as ‘Mahanayak Uttam Kumar’ and another station as ‘Netaji’. This was a reminder to the Bengalis of their great land. This was the ‘mati’ in the ‘ma mati manush’.

Finally, what you see most starkly is that the pro Mamata vote is mostly an anti CPI(M) vote. Mamata herself, has rabidly concentrated all her energies on bringing down the Left bastion. She had even defected from the Congress in the earlier part of her career, saying that the Congress was not serious enough about bringing down the CPI(M). As such, Mamata has no ideology of her own. Her focus is on holding up the CPI(M) cadre as the villains who stand in the path of Bengal’s glory. In fact she has even made an anti CPI(M) alliance with the CPI(Maoist) and famous Maoists have actively campaigned for the Trinamool. It is hard to see anything they could possible ally upon other than to bring the CPI(M) down.

What frightens me about the Trinamool is not the constant killing of CPI(M) cadre under the cover of dark though I fear for some who are close to my friends. It is the odd fact that the Trinamool reminds me of old history lessons on the rise of Fascism in Italy and Germany. Mussolini was a dictator and a war monger but at the end of the day, he was efficient. While he was the dictator, the trains ran on time. Mamata has given us the Durronto and it is seldom late. She is efficient, very efficient. Hitler had managed to coax all possible classes to support his electoral victory. He had focussed on restoring the past glory of the Fatherland and had identified an enemy- the Jews- as standing in the path of achieving that glory. Similarly, Mamata has focussed her energy on restoring the glory of Bengal and has identified the CPI(M) cadre as standing in the path of the restoration of Bengal’s glory. Mamata’s kristalnacht however, is not one night of breaking glass and killing. It is a concerted and slow slaughter of every CPI(M) cadre the TMC supporters can catch hold of. Mamata is in power and she intends to stay.

Theoretically, if Mamata has a political ideology, it is an ideology of Fascism. It is an opportunistic rise to power on an anti incumbency wave, based on wooing each class on the idea of a common glory and on the identification of a common enemy. Though it is not communal Fascism like in the case of the BJP and of course, the Trinamool is closer to the UPA but all the same, it is reminiscent of the story of the early Nazi party and the rise of Mussolini.

Finally, there is the personality cult. Mamata herself, is the ‘ma’ in ‘ma mati manush’. She holds herself as a mother figure, a saviour of the people in the same way as Mussolini called himself ‘Il Duce’ and Hitler became known as the ‘Fuhrer’.

One may say I am sore about the Left’s defeat and am being unnecessarily dark and ominous but this is how I understand the phenomenon of Mamata,

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” –W.B. Yeats.

10 Comments on "Understanding Mamata"

  1. Ananya May 24, 2011 at 2:32 am ·

    Your article, to put it directly, had me in splits. One sore Leftie you are, lemme say. You could definitely do with a chilled drink or two right after this. On a serious note, I think I should share with you the real reason why people chose Mamata..they were kind of.. tired. Tired of having to wait for pension or application from Government institutions, tired of having to oil up and contribute to a certain Student Body Funds, tired of being harassed at workplace and thrown out of jobs if you were not a supporter of CITU hoodlumry; indeed, of seeing hundreds of budding and old industries shut shop in the State under gunda Union culture. We got tired of having a dying bandh-ish work culture every alternate month; of we got TIRED of the newspaper headlines that spelt horror stories about the Netai and Jangalmahal killings, rapes and other gory stuff. Btw, remember two names –Nandigram and Singur? Just a mention of those two should do here. *wink*
    Getting on, it further tired us out to see and read news about criminally corrupt police/ bureaucrats being let off the hook for having “connections” with the a certain “Upar Mahal”. Last but not the least, i’d advice you a look at the “Where West Bengal stands in the Advancement Index” survey online. I doubt you’ll find the figures a pleasing sight, esp in the Flesh Trade racket one. *double wink*. LOL.
    A parting advice from me to you would be -look up the term Fascist Atrocities on Google, if you’re short of other materials on the same. Some of the stuff done under them Fascists regimes sure have lotsa reminders of stuff we seen closer home in Bengal. 😀
    Goodluck after that being a dark doomsday sayer, which is probably the ONLY thing Bengal’s Communists are/were good at. Lol. Just leave us, the people of Bengal to our celebrations at the end of the dark ages!

  2. Ananya May 24, 2011 at 2:44 am ·

    A better caption to this article would be, “an insight into whats left of a Leftist Utopia”. Even, “Bengal’s Comrades : Caught in an Ideological time warp?” would be good.

  3. Ananya May 24, 2011 at 3:42 am ·

    On a lighter note, anybody know what the Buddha, Anil Basu and the rest are up to nowadays? I miss the “Amra Ora” and “Sonagachir khodder” bytes like hell already!

  4. Anshul May 24, 2011 at 7:44 am ·

    What happened 5 years ago why did the people not get tired then? Why is CPI(M) doing well in Kerala? All these facts have been conveniently ignored by the people above who – justifiably one can argue – wanted change. But this does not mean that Mamta will do anything better, she has already started acquiring land for industrialization, then pray tell me why resist earlier? Yes, Nandigram was wrong, but it was an aberration and not the norm. And people punished CPI(M) for that. And it has to be accepted. But 4 women cadres of the CPI(M) were raped recently and a number of male cadres killed, but in the orgasmic stupor of change, i suppose the Bengali middle class is willing to ignore anything that happens to the CPI(M) cadre in Jangalmahal – at the hands of the Maoists and Trinamul – and other places.
    Yes, the party lost. But if you want to judge the impact of the Left or judge its success, see the terms on which the political debate takes place in the Left ruled State. It is not on the basis of communal polarization – through organized pogroms like in Modi ruled Gujarat- or on caste issues. Ask what Jyoti Basu and CPI(M) meant to a Muslim during the Babri Masjid demolition? The Party might have degenerated because of the long years in power but its program is still relevant for the scores of desperately poor people in this country.
    Although, Ruchira, I still think we must not equate this with fascism.

  5. Ananya May 24, 2011 at 9:44 am ·

    To straightaway answer your question, five years back, there was the lack of the thing called “organised and able opposition” that form the pillar of any Democratic state worth its salt. The people were tired even then as they are now, but could not translate the grievance into ballots because of the lack of alternatives. And about Nandigram being an aberration, I must respectfully point out that there are a host of other incidents waiting to be, or already branded as such “aberrations” by a hardcore CPIM man. Marichjhapi, Anandamargi, Jangalmahal police excesses, Saibari killings, shootout on FB workers(forgive my inability to recall the place), and most recently the Netai mass murder. Aberrations galore! If all of the above are called as “aberrations” then one has no choice but to see the word as synonymous with the “Norm”, which would be a grammatical upturning. Aint it?
    Also, I think you need to pay more attention to actual news than get bytes out of the “People’s Democracy”. Mamata has made it the first programme of her State Cabinet to return the disputed 400 acres of land to the unwilling/ uncompensated farmers. Jeez, its just two days in power and people start with their dark doomsday crystal balls. On the massacre of CPM workers in Jangalmahal, I, for one, am vehemently condemning of it. Like any sane soul having the fortune to know democracy, I consider Murder politics inimical to civilization, whether by Trinamool/ Maoists, or by the more common reverse phenomenon we are used to seeing all these 35 years. Btw, dont you find it extremely disturbing how some Invisible Indra( God Of War) seems to be showering his blessing all over Bengal recently? Stockpiles of hidden weapons seem to tumble out from everywhere..not that its particularly surprising or shocking. In fact, its news like this that make the “orgasmic stupor” of the Great Change want to sustain and renew itself every moment among us the Public.

    On the subject of Jyoti Basu, the less said the better. 😀

  6. Ananya May 24, 2011 at 10:17 am ·


    Muslims in Bengal are, quite contrary to the rosy, gleeful picture you seem to be painting, quite backward. Conduct a survey on all the slums existent in the State, you’ll find the demographics unflattering. Muslims in general, save the minority in the Middle class, have low and unhyiegenic living standards. Go and take a look at any Park Circus or Tiljala locality–the houses, beef chains or mosques. You’d get the real picture of whats what. That is even with excluding the S word. (Sachar Commission, ring a bell?). And the brand of Secularism practised by the Lefty babies–not that I expect the Trinamul to be any different in THIS regard, it was but pseudosecularist populism, at its worst. Appeasing drives towards Imams and ignoring the religious fanaticism of them, being blissfully ignoring of what goes on in the dark, shady, seedy bylane Madrasas across the State, and going the extra mile to brand anybody who pointed them out as a ‘BJP supporter’. Remember, how our beloved CM once decried Sarasvati bandana at a public function because he felt it contradicted the ethos of secularism, BUT, had absolutely no qualms sitting through a Azan programme at a Muslim majority locality function. They denounced the harassment meted out to MF Husain by BJP/SS goons, but did not hesitate to ban Taslima Nasrin’s books on pogroms directed at Hindus in Bangladesh. And all the while, ignoring all REAL DEVELOPMENT that should have been done. Pff! Secular! Dont utter that word and CPM in the same breath.

  7. rahul.n May 26, 2011 at 4:13 am ·

    The argument that people got tired of CPM right from the start and yet continued to support it is itself contradictory, reasons known to oneself. There is no point in carrying forward that stream of argument. facing the conspiracy theory on a god-forsaken website is the least I want. i would rather like to comment on Ruchira’s argument. I partially endorse her position while sticking to what Anshul states as basic.
    I dont know whether we should start branding TMC outrightly fascist in the line of Mussolini and Hitler. It’s an anti-left vote not certainly a pariborton vote. And considering the tactics of TMC as fascist actually redeems petty bourgeoise ideology of many variations of regressive ideology and politics it is capable of. Fascist content though it has and like Fascism, it certainly is based on petty bourgeoise ideology.

    I still believe Bhadralok bengalis are still well known across India for their flamboyant Kali puja than the Azan and this image persisted through out the left rule.

  8. Ruchira May 26, 2011 at 5:35 am ·

    Ananya, there is one fundamental flaw with your argument which I take responsibility for because I’ve made it myself. Mamata did not arise as an alternative only in 2011. She has been around for quite a while. In fact in 2001, she was confident of victory. She had even announced her cabinet before the results were announced. The CPI(M) however, won. I agree that the CPI(M) has failed to deliver on many counts but it is worth considering why it kept coming back for 34 years on a peoples’ mandate. Cronyism is likely to crop up when a party has been in power for so long. One advantage of this defeat is that atleast such elements will leave the party. Now don’t say that the answer is booth capturing or something. Booth capturing does not keep a party going for so long. Also, the election commission wouldn’t have let the CPI(M) get away with it. They have often been very anti communist.

  9. carl schmitt May 29, 2011 at 2:37 am ·

    “Finally, what you see most starkly is that the pro Mamata vote is mostly an anti CPI(M) vote. ”
    really? unfortunately, taking comrade patanaik’s – P and U – classes in jnu does not qualify one for critical independent thought. Only the cpi-m – not even its allies mind you – would think such a blatantly idiotic statement is true. No wonder the Left Front Senile man-in-charge biman bose said on may 13th that they had ‘no idea’ of the support for the trinamool. how would they? the fabled ‘people’ deserted communists a long time ago. this vote may have been many things, but to say it was simply anti-cpim is not just wishful thinking, its plain illiteracy in politics.

    and by the way, since suddenly our self-proclaimed radicals in bengal have started saying ‘hey they voted us in 7 times, how do you explain that?’ let me ask: what about narendra modi who is voted in time after time? or is it true popular political consciousness when they vote hammer and sickle while its ‘false consciousness’ when they vote modi?

    by the way, to compare mamata with hitler – and trinamool with fascism – shows just the levels of brianwashing going on in party ranks these days. but then why blame a foot-soldier of stupidity? at a prominent meeting in the oh-so-expensive constitution club in delhi following the global economic crisis, all top cpi-m leaders and apologists shared the stage. they all had one thing to say. and let me name them too: prabhat patnaik, jayati ghosh, cpc (yes, cesp cpc,) sitaram yechury, and perhaps mr karat (his unmemorable presence cant be ascertained from memory.) what did these sages have to say about the crisis? that is presents a opportunity for fascism. this is the lazy communist formula that has been passing for too long as ‘analysis’: where there is no crisis, the problem is neoliberalism, and when there is a crisis, its an opportunity for fascists. where does the communist party come in pray tell? what kind of COMMUNIST PARTY cannot take advantage of an ECONOMIC CRISIS to mobilise people and instead worries about fascism? the kind that is sold out totally to the neoliberal agenda. historical inevitability!

    oh and by the way: if you could extract yourself from your subject-position to see how the sfi comrades listen to a ‘leader’ like karat or patnaik, and if you watch that interaction closely, tell me what is fascism but that?

  10. Anshul June 12, 2012 at 10:54 am ·

    What has happened in France and Greece? We see Far Right candidates winning unprecedented vote share in the country’s history on an overtly anti – minority and xenophobic agenda! What is it, if not a tendency towards fascism?

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