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Despite Mamata Banerjee’s “Political High-Handedness”, Here’s Why I Still Support Her

By Arya Roy:

The newly appointed chief minister of eastern Indian state of West Bengal and Trinamool Congress (TMC) Mamata Banerjee addresses her supporters during a rally in Kolkata July 21, 2011. The annual rally was held to commemorate the July 21, 1993 event where 13 political party workers were killed by the police, and also to celebrate their historic win in the recent concluded state elections, TMC leaders said on Thursday. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri (INDIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR2P4H0
Image credit: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri.

The state of West Bengal is in the middle of a tumultuous Assembly election season. This is the second time that I will not be able to cast my vote because I will be away taking my university exams. However, since my roots are in West Bengal, I hope that everyone who is voting in the state is aware of the truth about the political leaders they elect. This will help people make informed decisions about whom to vote.

In West Bengal, when it comes to politics, only one name comes to mind – Mamata Banerjee. In all the opinion polls so far, her party has emerged at the top. I first became acquainted with her as a result of the political bandhs or strikes she conducted. Surprisingly, these bandhs were quite effective in compelling people to take her seriously. I would hear my father having heated discussions about her prospects in state politics with the neighbours. For me and my friends, bandhs were the perfect opportunity to play cricket all day without having to worry about attending classes.

I also remember listening to her as the chief guest at my school’s valedictory ceremony. She gave an inspiring speech on the role of the youth in society. A lot of the things she spoke about went over my head. The only thing that I remembered from her speech was the quote, “We cannot always build a future for our youth (referring to the lack of infrastructure) but we can always build our youth for the future.” At the time of the speech, it hardly left an impression on me. But it was hard to ignore the zeal in her voice. When the speech was over, the audience responded with a thunderous applause. Little did I know then that the enigmatic woman standing on the podium of my school auditorium would go on to become a household name in national politics. Whenever I find hopelessness and despair among friends who are disgruntled with the education system, I always remember what Mamata had said about preparing ourselves for the future without cribbing about issues that are beyond our control.

Back in 2011, Mamata Banerjee stormed the Left citadel that was Bengal, ridding the state of the 34-year-long Communist rule. It was quite a remarkable feat considering that only five years back Buddhadeb Bhattacharya emerged as a knight in shining armour of West Bengal, and the Left Front won a majority in the assembly while the opposition Trinamool Congress was totally marginalised. However, the outbreak of the Singur movement proved to be the turning point for Mamata Banerjee. By going on a month-long hunger strike, she risked her life to ensure that the distressed farmers of Singur were given back the land that was rightfully theirs.

Apart from Singur, Mamata also protested against the CPIM atrocities in Nandigram. Armed CPM cadres allegedly killed more than a dozen people and injured many more who were opposing the then Buddhadeb Bhattacharya government’s plans to take over their fertile farmlands for setting up a chemical hub over 10,000 acres of fertile land in March 2007. Banerjee’s political ambitions met a match in the clamour for change by Bengali intellectuals, especially those who were not just disgruntled defectors of the red camp but those who owed their success to talent and hard work and not favours distributed by the Marxists. The CPM government, for example, bred the amorphous entity called the ‘syndicate‘ which the party MLAs fed off at the expense of ordinary people outside the party.

Amidst growing resentment against the repressive governance of the incumbent party, the masses found Mamata’s call for ‘Poriborton’, or change, a welcome reprieve. I was amazed by Mamata’s ability to fight against all odds and never back down. She put on a brave face and gave us the courage to rise up against the dominant communists. In that sense, she proved to be an agent of change ushering in a new era in Bengal politics.

But after five years in power, Mamata has left the people of West Bengal disillusioned. Her brazen, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, political moves had led to the coining of the term ‘Didigiri’. In this avatar, the fiery West Bengal Chief Minister has acquired a reputation for what detractors call extreme intolerance. Hell hath no fury as Didi if anything or anyone tries to scorn her. A Jadavpur University professor learnt this the hard way when he shared with friends what seemed like an innocuous cartoon that showed Mamata along with now Railway Minister Mukul Roy planning to get rid of party MP and Mr. Roy’s predecessor in the Rail Ministry, Dinesh Trivedi. It is with the same shrewdness and agility that she successfully saw off Maoist domination and the Gorkha movement in her state.

After a highly publicised sting operation blew away the already wobbly credentials of the senior leaders of ruling party tarnished by the disastrous Saradha money-laundering scandal, there was little room for anything worse especially in the era of anti-corruption sentiment engaging the whole nation. Still, most experts refused to downplay the fact that Mamata Banerjee is all set to win a second term as the West Bengal Chief Minister. All that was going to change on the fateful morning of March 31, 2016, when the most peculiar debacle rattled the unassuming city of Kolkata – an under-construction bridge in a bustling area of the city collapsed claiming the lives of 27 innocent people.

While the chief minister was away in Jangal Mahal on a crucial part of her campaign, news channels worldwide flashed the scenes of utter chaos that ensued in Kolkata after the irrevocable disaster. As the opposition came out all guns blazing to dismantle the self-esteem of the incumbent, there was not the slightest sense of tension in the Trinamool Congress camp. Quite evidently, this was not the first time that the enigmatic TMC leader was staring down the barrel of a gun and was yet hopeful of a turnaround in her fortunes. “Delhi is unleashing terror and atrocity. Nobody has seen such a thing during any election earlier. But I have accepted their challenge. I will not bow down to anyone,” Ms. Banerjee said.

The state electorate has unanimously accepted that Mamata is a ruthless woman. The corrupt syndicates that were born in the CPM era have only grown and flourished under the Trinamool government. She has fought the system to ensure that she is able to serve her followers. The same woman who routed the communists in Bengal interacts with the poor children in villages to help them. An embodiment of guts and compassion – she is truly working for the betterment of the state which, though well intentioned, seems ridiculous in the public eye at times. Her aggression gets the better of her sometimes. Thus, her heightened reactions to the slightest criticism lead to harsh judgement by the public. Her willingness to bring positive change is undisputed, but her hands are tied. She is compelled to indulge in political high-handedness to stay in power – the opium to her ambitious soul.

“They have little or no knowledge of Bengal. They speak without knowing. We are not surprised. The political bias is obvious. A lot of this is cooked up by the Delhi babus,” TMC chief spokesperson Derek O’ Brien said about the critics of TMC rule in line with his leader Mamata’s tone throughout this election season. What remains to be seen is whether her status as an indomitable firebrand politician sees her through this election. Otherwise, the dreaded odium of CPM politicians will take over Writer’s Building after a five-year hiatus.

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  1. Balaji

    what a load of sh**

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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