Posts Tagged ‘Mamata Banerjee’

I generally desist from commenting on the antics of the West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee or her party members because I have always felt that lesser said about them the better. After all, their actions speak unambiguously for them and they do not stand in need of unsolicited assistance from commentators like me. The ongoing drama (involving the impending dismissal of railways minister Dinesh Trivedi) however has forced me to put my opinion of the lady on record through this blog, if only to vent my utter disgust and frustration with the state of affairs that she has created. Like Dinesh Trivedi, I too feel that somewhere there is a ‘patriot’ hidden deep inside me that yearns to speak out in protest at the open molestation of Indian Democracy and all that it is supposed to stand for.

Sitting in the Secretariat in Calcutta, Ms Banerjee is attempting to single-handedly derail the Union Railway Budget by insisting on the dismissal of the minister responsible for it (who unfortunately belongs to her own party). The ostensible reason for this is her concern for the ‘aam aadmi’ who cannot bear the fare hikes proposed by the minister, and for whom her heart bleeds no end. Quite conveniently however, the same duplicitous heart does not bleed for the aam aadmi in her own state when it comes to hiking the electricity tariff of the state-run power company for whose financial health she is directly responsible. The ministry of railways has long become a regional fiefdom, to be used (or abused) by successive alliance partners to further the cause of their home state. Ms Banerjee had been running it for three years with complete economic abandon, promising to build on railway land and with railway funds projects as fanciful as hospitals, management schools, sports academies, eco parks and even an odd museum in honour of Rabindranath Tagore, and all this without raising passenger fares for the sake of the aam aadmi. Quite obviously, as Mr. Trivedi pointed out, the railways subsided into ‘ICU’, to extricate it from which it became necessary to increase fares for the first time in almost a decade. Railways being an enterprise of the State, the cost of running it has to be borne by the ‘aam aadmi’ whether by way of direct fares or by government subsidies and budgetary support which in turn comes from the various taxes and duties paid to the exchequer by the common man himself. Mr Trivedi had the sense to charge the regular users of the service directly instead of making a poor villager, who seldom boards a train, pay more for every cake of soap or packet of salt. While this is common economic sense to most, the same cannot be said for Mr Trivedi’s populist boss who seems to lack sense in general, whether common or economic.

Ms Banerjee considers the railways portfolio as part of her extended cabinet, which is why she has already nominated one of her trusted flunkeys, Mukul Roy, as Mr. Trivedi’s successor. The latter however has shown great heroism by refusing to step down unless asked to do so formally either by the Prime Minister or his party boss. His prospects in the party and the ministry are obviously over, and he understands that well, but as a parting blow he would like to humiliate Ms Banerjee into dismissing him for presenting the most sensible railway budget in recent times. Whether Ms Banerjee is emotionally capable of humiliation is another matter, but Trivedi needs to be lauded for his sheer steadfastness in the face of shameless politicking by members of his party, including its Chief Whip who is using every sound bite possible to settle scores with Trivedi in a most revolting and vengeful fashion. It remains to be seen what role the Prime Minister will play in all this drama. My guess is that he will play the one he knows best – that of the silent spectator.

My final observation is on Ms Banerjee’s choice of replacement. The departure of Dinesh Trivedi will drastically bring down the mean literacy level of the Trinamul Congress, for he was an outlier to begin with. Being an alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta and UT Austin, how he landed up in a party like the TMC is a mystery to me. His prospective successor, however, does not have to justify his existence in the party, for as his official Rajya Sabha profile indicates, he is not even a graduate (having cleared only Part I of his B.Sc course). Such is the farce of Indian democracy that we now stare at the possibility of an organization of 1.4 million people being headed by a man who would be deemed unfit were he to apply for the post of a petty ticketing clerk!

In situations like these, when a mockery is being made of people’s aspirations by selfish, insular politicians, one cannot help but be cynical. Someone recently remarked that politicians like Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee represent a breed of ‘popular dictators’ who are a dangerous combination of propagandist, demagogue and megalomaniac all rolled into one – a kind of Himmler, Goebbels and Hitler in the body of one person. I could not help but agree though I wondered what could be at the root of this problem. I do not think that it is necessarily a lack of wisdom on the part of voters that is responsible for the rise of such people to seats of power. Rather it is a poverty of choice which forces people to gamble between two known devils in the hope that one of them will turn out to be less harmful than the other. Also at fault is the parliamentary system of democracy we practice and which ensures that regional satraps can hold national interests to ransom at whim. Given these constraints, we have been trudging along a path of compromise – a middle path which essentially leads nowhere. In spite of all the romance associated with its size and longevity, the greatest tragedy of India’s democracy is that it has had to settle for mediocrity.

When tomorrow Mamata Banerjee succeeds in replacing Dinesh Trivedi with a half-educated stooge of her choosing and getting him to roll back the fare hike, it shall be just another instance of retrogressive mediocrity winning over progressive and visionary leadership, just another step on that much-trodden middle path.


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