SEEMA MUSTAFA | 16 MAY, 2019
The Dimunitive Lady From West Bengal
Mamata Banerjee in command
Mamata Banerjee first made her presence felt, at least in Delhi, when she as a Congress Member of Parliament attached herself to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. And quickly established herself as a leading member of what we reporters covering Parliament then called his “shouting brigade.” Her high pitched tones drowned out all else, and made it impossible for an opponent to continue his attack on the Congress party. In fact it became so that whenever Mamata Banerjee stood up, the opponents all sat down, with a silent groan reverberating through the House.
She has not looked back since.
The dimunitive lady rose, on entirely her own power, to become the chief minister of West Bengal. There was no god father, no mentor, no father, no party really. With passion and sheer strength of will she started the Trinamool Congress in 1998, went on to capture the sentiment of her home state, and today is locked in a battle with the powerful duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who have unleashed their entire force to contain her in West Bengal.
Not a single leader---other than perhaps Congress president Rahul Gandhi---has faced such viciousness from the word go. Every possible slur has been hurled against her, as she alone battles not just the combined might of the RSS-BJP but also the Congress and the Left in West Bengal in these elections. Mamata Banerjee has shown exemplary courage through the years, leading from the front, and not hiding behind any ones back. Except for her party she is not being supported by any political front in West Bengal, to the point where Congress and Left cadres are said to have joined hands with local BJP goons against her in some constituencies.
Ask any opposition leader. It has not been easy to confront Modi-Shah during these years, as apart from the slur campaign that is always difficult to withstand, they have not hesitated to use the might of government machinery against their opponents. The Central Bureau of Investigation has been waved like a whip across, quelling many an opposition leader along the way. Banerjee’s own party leaders have seen the inside of jail, with the threat all pervasive. But that has now cowed her down, in fact seems to have sharpened her determination to face the BJP on its own terms.
This was evident over the past two days, when Amit Shah organised a huge road show that local media insisted was comprised also of persons brought from the outside. Violence seemed to be written into the meeting, with the spill over making the Election Commission halt campaigning for the last phase of the polls. The entire opposition has come out in strong protest with the chief minister stating, "This is an emergency situation arisen because of the EC decision... It's not an Election Commission decision, it's a BJP decision. Modi is afraid of me and afraid of the people of Bengal. Amit Shah held a presser on Tuesday morning and threatened the commission... Is this order a result of that threat?"
The violence was supposed to have placed Mamata Banerjee in the dock, but despite the alleged doctoring of facts and the national media support, the BJP has not succeeded in this. The very fact that saffron clad men were seen on video smashing the Vidyasagar statue has punctured Shah’s claims, and shifted the blame effectively from the Trinamool Congress on to the BJP. This despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call of building a grand statue of Vidyasagar and Amit Shah’s insistence that it was desecrated by Trinamool Congress workers.Pratik Sinha has in AltNews pointed to the manufacturing of news, collecting sufficient evidence to prove that the BJP workers were behind this particular segment of the violence.
The Election Commission of India that has stepped in to announce a ban on campaigning in West Bengal earlier than scheduled has drawn strong criticism from the Opposition with leaders asking whether the ban to be imposed from 10pm tonight instead of 5 pm a day later, is to accommodate PM Modi’s election meetings. However, Mamata Banerjee has responded to this not with just words -- “Election Commission is running under the BJP” --but action scheduling new election meetings alongside Modi’s. This has led the SPG, according to reports, to fire off letters expressing concern.
The opposition has closed ranks behind the West Bengal CM. Mayawati accused Modi and Shah of “planned targeting” of Banerjee. She said that this was “ unbecoming of Prime Minister of the country." She further added, the Election Commission has banned campaigning in West Bengal, but from 10 pm today just because the PM has two rallies in the day. If they had to ban then why not from today morning? This is unfair and EC is acting under pressure.”
Congress leaders, including Ahmed Patel, also issued statements saying that the decision was to accommodate PM’s rallies. The party described this as "an unpardonable betrayal of the constitution.” And that the Model Code of Conduct had become the "Modi Code of Misconduct".
Mamata Banerjee, despite the violence and the continued attack on her directly by PM Modi who baited her at all his subsequent election rallies, has not backed off. She rushed to the spot of the violence, she held a protest rally, and has announced her intention to hold a public meeting just kilometres away from PM’ scheduled meet at Mathurapur. The chief minister is holding a meeting now at Achna, with the SPG worried about the possibility of clashes. The timing, according to media reports from Kolkata, is also about the same.
Opposition leaders spoken to admitted that Banerjee was giving a tough fight. “She is a human dynamo,” a Congress leader said. The party is contesting against her in West Bengal but her energy has earned admiration. She is giving as good as she gets, and has her party leaders silently applauding in admiration. Poll violence has been part of West Bengal’s electoral landsacape for decades now, so locally this is not as big an issue as it is for Delhi and the media. That “Didi” is not buckling under pressure has been noticed and her popularity remains intact in her home state.
Every word uttered by Shah or for that matter the Prime Minister has been steadily countered by Mamata Banerjee who is ruling West Bengal with authoritarian command. From arresting a BJP worker for a meme---action that earned her flak even amongst some of her intellentsia supporters---to using the police to deny leaders like Yogi Adityanath access, to keeping the BJP on its toes at every turn--- the petite lady has made it clear she is not one to succumb to the tactics that have made many a political head bow across India.
“Mamata is intolerant” said PM Modi. But then as she says, the people will decide.