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Mamata's Bengal: 'Pariborton' for the worse!

Nowhere is the politician-criminal nexus more apparent at present than in West Bengal. As much was evident yet again from the nonchalant manner in which a hoodlum shot dead a police officer in a crowded place in Kolkata's Garden Reach area in broad daylight during a spell of disturbances over a students union election.

The fact that the goon is known to be associated with the Trinamool Congress will not surprise anyone in the state, which has seen how the police has continued to be reluctant to act against anti-socials with links to the ruling party, as during Leftist rule.

The scene has been made murkier by the removal of Kolkata's police commissioner R.K. Pachnanda, reportedly for arresting some of the culprits who have a Trinamool Congress background.

The latest outbreak has followed almost continuous lawlessness, which made Governor M.K. Narayanan describe the conditions in the state as "depressing and disturbing" because of the widespread "goondaism".

The comment made a minister say that the governor was guilty of a yellow card violation, according to football terminology, and that he might be shown a red card soon.

Although it is doubtful whether such colourful threats to a governor have any validity in real life, Narayanan's latest observation that "something was wrong" in West Bengal will not please the state government.

The comment may not be a prelude to the imposition of president's rule, which is nowadays enforced in the rarest of rare cases. But, the almost unending disturbed conditions mean that the state is unlikely to see any improvement in the political, educational and industrial spheres in the foreseeable future.

Few will doubt that the 'pariborton' or change, which Mamata Banerjee promised before the assumption of power 20 months ago, has been for the worse.

To old-timers, the continuing violence is reminiscent of the period in the mid-1960s when the Communists were forcefully establishing their bases in the state. Arguably, the Trinamool at present is passing through a similar phase when it is trying to consolidate its influence in various fields, including colleges, as the latest outbreak shows.

Moreover, since it has become an established feature of political life that the parties routinely use street thugs to demonstrate their hold by terrorizing their opponents and the ordinary people, the ruffians have become increasingly bold, as have been seen from the Garden Reach incident and an earlier one in Haldia from where the officials of a private company had to flee after being threatened by goons with political backing.

As is known, their temerity stems from the knowledge that their bosses in Writers' Building, the government's headquarters in Kolkata, will protect them from the police.

Shortly after Mamata Banerjee assumed office, she had personally gone to a police station to secure the release of several her party's "activists".

The fact that the clashes in Garden Reach were between Trinamool supporters and those of the Congress also recalls the Communist period when there were skirmishes between the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) cadres and the followers of other Left parties as each one of them tried to strike roots in various areas.

In the present case, the eagerness which the Trinamool ministers are showing in the arrest of a local Congress leader is typical of the ruling party's tactics of sending the police after an opponent rather than on their own goons.

Evidently, the Left is not Mamata Banerjee's only enemy.

Violence is not the only dark spot on the state government's record. It has been rocked by a series of lapses and blunders, starting with a high number of deaths of children in hospitals during winter to the rising cases of rape.

Instead of showing concern, however, the chief minister's response was to describe the reports about these incidents as attempts to malign her name, especially with regard to a rape case in the Park Street area, which she called a concocted story.

Perhaps because of the realization that the ground is slipping from under her feet, Banerjee has become exceedingly short-tempered of late.

She threatened to "whip" her security personnel when her car turned up a few minutes late at the Kolkata Book Fair, and to slap the journalists at one of her public rallies. It doesn't take much perspicacity to see that she has been unable to graduate from being a rabble rouser to be an administrator.

At the same time, her limited economic perspective made her reject all of the prime minister's reforms programmes, which finally led to her party's departure from the government at the centre.

She also made a laughing stock of herself by opposing Pranab Mukherjee's presidential venture with Mulayam Singh Yadav's help without understanding the nuances of politics at the national level.

After her rupture with the centre and her break with the Congress in West Bengal, if she had been able to run the government with a modicum of efficiency, the people of the state might have had some relief from the prevailing "goondaism". But her inability or unwillingness to control the Trinamool cadres is responsible for the near-anarchic state.

(16.02.2013 - Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at 

Amulya Ganguli

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