The great American comedian W.C Fields once joked that throughout his adult life, he had never voted for anyone; only voted against someone. That is true of the people of West Bengal, too. Last year, they voted against the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which was the governing entity in the state for over 34 years. Their anti-incumbency vote meant that Mamata Banerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress, were given the reins of power for the first time in the state.
Banerjee’s victory gave the people of the once-glorious state hope. Driven to near-bankruptcy and to a state of industrial regression, West Bengal’s electorate thought that they had a good thing going with the firebrand TMC leader. Alas, that was not to be.
And the events of the last week and this week have only exacerbated an already-frustrated populace. For starters, her party members filed a police case against a respected university professor of chemistry for sending an anti-Mamata cartoon over the Web. On Monday, her regime got a scientist arrested for opposing a slum eviction drive. The same day, her party issued a diktat that TMC party members should not marry members of the Communist Party; in fact, not even talk to them.
Tolerance has been thrown out of the windows of Writers’ Building, and in its place, a new regime has emerged that almost sounds dictatorial in its operations. It is ironic that Banerjee has come to power with her ability to take on the establishment by exploiting her free speech rights. She has led movements against the state government, and more than once, she has been physically assaulted by the police. So it is tragic and sad that she is using the same police force to clamp down on dissent. What Kolkata really needs is pragmatic policymaking to bring the state back on track. Instead, Banerjee is behaving like a train hurtling down at top speed with brakes failed. The result cannot be anything but an unmitigated disaster.