Like all political parties, the Trinamool too indulges in unabashed tokenism. Its monumental contribution to the state is a 130-foot tall memorial in Nandigram — on the fringes of Kolkata — to remind people of a heroic struggle of the peasants against the Left Front. The former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government had tried to evict farmers from the village and acquire land for a SEZ to be constructed by Salem, the Indonesia-based business group. This had triggered a militant and widespread movement culminating with the Left’s downfall.
The Nandigram memorial, costing Rs2.25 crore, has come up on land donated by a TMC sympathiser, and constructed with donations from TMC MP Shuvendu Adhikary — who spent Rs30 lakh from his allowance — as well as with teachers’ and party functionaries’ contributions in the area. Next only to Shahid Minar (168 feet) — a war memorial erected by the East India Company and renamed in 1967 by the United Front government in memory of India’s freedom fighters — it was Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s way of paying tribute to a people’s movement, especially to those women brutalised during the resistance. Adding a touch of poignancy to its opening ceremony was a 52-year-old woman, allegedly gangraped twice, inaugurating the martyrs’ tower, and recounting her trauma.
This brings us to question the performance and intent of the present Bengal dispensation. The Left Front’s day-to-day tyranny may be over, but the horrors faced by the women in the state continue unabated under the new dispensation.
In the latest case involving the death of a teenage victim gangraped twice and later set on fire allegedly by the perpetrators, the inept police had been high-handed in its dealings. Earlier, amid mounting criticism following the Kamdhuni gangrape, Didi’s behaviour had shocked even her staunchest supporters. Banerjee attributed the crime to the opposition’s conspiracy at maligning her image. Her response, marked by insensitivity and the arrogance of power, was similar after the Park Street gangrape. Even more hurtful was the CM’s failure in acknowledging her administration’s incompetence in curbing crimes against women. The woman helming the state had failed the women in the state.
Consider the context of Banerjee’s rise to power. Her ascendancy was fuelled by the promise of a radical change in governance, which included improving law and order. In 2011 and 2012, Bengal topped the list in crimes against women. Meanwhile, Banerjee’s contributions have been to name Metro stations after illustrious Bengalis and playing Rabindrasangeet at traffic junctions to enhance — what some would describe as — Bengali Asmita. On coming to power Banerjee painted the city white and blue hoping to eradicate any trace of red — the colour associated with the CPI-M. Banerjee in a short span has proved to be better than her predecessors who had mastered the art of tokenism in their 34-year rule. The Left had rechristened New Town as Jyoti Basu Nagar during their last days in power. In the Eighties the dome of the Shahid Minar was painted red by the Jyoti Basu government.
Perhaps, Banerjee should look no further than Bihar to realise that tokenism alone cannot earn her the trust of the people. Nitish Kumar too had nurtured Bihari Asmita. But he has also transformed a virtually lawless state into having more than a semblance of law and order. Bihar’s turnaround could be described as an example of Kumar’s relentless efforts to live up to the promises he had made to the voters when he ousted Lalu Prasad Yadav from power.
Undoubtedly, Bihar is still far from being a model state, but it is getting there, or at least aspiring to move in that direction. For Bengal, however, it’s a painful realisation of misplaced trust.