Mamata Banerjee Is No Antidote to Narendra Modi
When TMC propaganda meets liberal fantasy
We ignore the lessons of history at our peril.
On March 30 1998, in a report in the Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and current West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is quoted as stating “I will bring BJP into the front to fight.” Her former second-in-command Mukul Roy is now on the BJP roll, alongside a number of other TMC leaders. Narendra Modi claims that he has been in contact with a much larger number of TMC leaders. Since the TMC has come to power in West Bengal, the shakhas of RSS have grown from nearly none during Left rule to over 1500 in 2019.
It is therefore ironic, although not surprising, that the Mamata Banerjee biographer Monobina Gupta has concocted the phantom of the CPI(M) for the inroads made into West Bengal by the BJP. In what reads like a press release out of the TMC manifesto and a TMC campaign strategy, unsubstantiated references to CPI(M) activists now with the BJP form the backdrop to a claim about a strategic blunder by the CPI(M).
These claims are circulated by liberals in their cushy urban comforts, desperately wanting to prop up anyone that appears as a secular icon to fuel their fantasies. These liberals, fed on neoliberal pseudoscience, are however deeply uncomfortable with the actively socialist politics of the Left, eager to write off the anti-fascist politics of the Communist parties in India.
Notes Gupta, “Whatever the BJP’s ultimate tally from Bengal turns out to be, the CPI(M) will have, no doubt, contributed a great deal to mainstreaming a marginal political outlier in the state.” This ridiculous claim therefore for the entry of the BJP into Bengal places the onus in the hands of the CPI(M) while it is the TMC that has historically collaborated with the BJP, played with both competitive Hindutva and Islamic fundamentalism, and manufactured the climate for the spread of Hindutva in Bengal.
This is a perfect example of what I call “communicative inversion,” turning reality on its head through multiple leaps in logic.
Writing off the CPI(M)
For a number of the upwardly aspiring classes, including classes of Indian journalists seduced by the neoliberal model of growth, writing off the Left parties, and particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is the fashionable thing to do. Consider for instance the number of journalists that are quick to point out the failures and the irrelevance of the Left in India, while at the same time backgrounding the grassroots political work of the Left. The article by Gupta works similarly by claiming that the CPI(M) has disappeared from West Bengal.
This claim is bereft of and contrary to evidence.
The sheer number of red flags, posters, wall paintings, street processions, and supporters at rallies speak to the ongoing presence of the CPI(M). This in spite of the culture of violence and fear that has been actively cultivated by the TMC. Even as CPI(M) party offices have been violently shut down and party workers have been murdered, activists on the ground have persisted. In spite of the climate of fear and in the face of threats to life, party workers have opened up party officers, set up red flags, and organized rallies.
The dedication and commitment of these party workers is driven by ideology, not shifted according to a politics of convenience. Leave aside the right-wing BJP, the thought of joining hands with Congress unsettles many among the grassroots of these party members; such is their rootedness in ideology.
Between 2015 and 2019, the Left organized large-scale protests against the forces of communalism across Bengal. In the face of communal clashes that were seeded by the communal politics played by both the BJP and the TMC, CPI(M) organized secular processions, performances, and dialogues. These anti-communal campaigns were steered by party workers that form a substantive presence across Bengal.
In the months leading up to the elections, party offices have once again been re-opened. The political campaigns of many strong and community-grounded candidates Debalina Hembram, Bikash Bhattacharya, Fuad Halim have drawn in large numbers of party workers and activists. Contrast these candidates to the usual TMC line-up of Tollywood stars.
The streets of Bengal have been once again painted red in many parts. After the dismantling of the statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the Left led a large rally in Kolkata. All of this is certainly not a sign of the disappearing Left. Yet, the very signs of Left presence in Kolkata escape Ms. Gupta.
Indeed, some segments of the Left supporters are likely to vote for the BJP. Careful post-election analyses on voting patterns would offer insights into what actually happened. This turn however needs to be situated in a climate of communication monoculture where TMC violence forms the fabric of everyday life. It is not a strategic turn made by the CPI(M), unlike in 1996, when the party “refused to allow its then Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu to become prime minister of the third front-led United Front government.” Ms. Gupta cleverly confuses strategic party decision-making with shifts in the political support base of the CPI(M).
Mamata Banerjee is not the anti-dote to Modi
For the liberal media, the figure of Mamata Banerjee offers the promise of countering the decline of India into fascism.
As I have argued elsewhere, it must be noted however that Mamata Banerjee is no anti-dote to Modi. In West Bengal, she has partaken in the game of competitive Hindutva politics, fighting with the BJP for instance over the control over the various Hindu processions and festivals on the ground. Her leaders have actively sought out the iconographic image of the “Hanuman,” an icon often attached to the Hindutva outfits, as a political strategy. Her spectacles of performance of pujas are situated alongside the strategic performance politics she plays to woo the Muslim vote.
The unprecedented rise of fascist Hindutva in India must be resisted at an ideological level. TMC, a political party bereft of ideology, driven by political opportunism, and equipped with a culture of corruption and violence, does not have the ethical foundations for carrying on the anti-fascist work.
We can only hope that the party workers of the Left who have been carrying out this anti-fascist work on an everyday basis, in spite of the threats of violence and to life, continue to do the hard work. We can also hope that the Left successfully sends its candidates to the parliament, a necessary anchor to preserving the spirit of Indian democracy, particularly its commitment to socialism. Irrespective of what the outcome of the 2019 elections though, and in spite of whatever declarations made by the paid neoliberal media, the work of the CPI(M) in West Bengal will continue in its communities on the ground.