For Mamata Banerjee, the expression and the lexicon of violence and confrontation is what come most easily and naturally. From wildly dancing on the bonnet of the venerable Jaya Prakash Narayan’s Ambassador in Kolkata at the height of the anti-Indira Gandhi movement, to goading Bengal youth Congress activists to their death in police firing in 1993, to encouraging her MLA’s to unleash mayhem on the floor of the West Bengal Assembly, to repeatedly abusing the Speaker’s Chair in Parliament, Mamata Banerjee’s politics is essentially of the street level dimension – a dimension which endows its practitioner only with the capacity to name-call, to abusively react and to blow hot air balloons that threaten of dire consequences.
The latest rope-tying remark Mamata made against Narendra Modi is thus, in tune with her irretrievably reductionist world-view – it hardly merits a counter, but instead points to how she has singularly contributed to lowering the level of discourse in national politics today. But that is what she has always excelled in.
Ironically, when she hurled a sheaf of papers at the Speaker’s Chair in August 2005 and hurled invectives at CS Atwal, then Deputy Speaker who was presiding over the House, Mamata’s main complaint and grouse was that she was being disallowed to raise the “subject of illegal Bangladeshi migration”. Mamata fumed saying, “Illegal migrants from Bangladesh are also part of the voters’ list in West Bengal. The state government has done nothing about it. Therefore, the issue must be discussed.”
When the Presiding Officer reminded her that the crucial issue had already been discussed for four long hours at the beginning of the Session, Mamata, then a sole Member of Parliament from her party blew her top, “Whenever I want to raise an issue, I am not allowed to speak. As a member of this House, I also have the right to raise issues of concern to my people.” And hurling a sheaf of papers at the Chair, she stomped back to her seat, only to crumble into a sob.
While the majority of the House and all those in whom she sees today potential “federal-front” allies exploded in condemnation of the street-act, Mamata’s then long-suffering ally the BJP and its members shielded her from the possibility of a dire Parliamentary retribution. But that is, as they say, history, and Didi is a past-master at forgetting history and forgetting all those who once did her a good turn. It is another defining characteristic of her politics. Isn’t it strange therefore that her heart bleeds for the illegal Bangladeshi migrant, whose right to stay on, perpetuate and parasitically flourish in India she has decided to champion with her life. Today, when Narendra Modi raises the same issue, Didi puts her lobbing capacities to renewed uses, only altering the target and reversing the issue.
The issue of illegal immigration has long been discussed and one need not enter here into its intricacies. But I would like to point to certain individuals who decisively raised this issue in the past and who, unlike Narendra Modi, were spared Didi’s rods and jibes. Let us start with a Gandhi family loyalist of long standing. When former DIB TV Rajeshwar, as governor of West Bengal in 1989-1990, talked and wrote of the possibility of the rise of a “third Islamic republic” in the sub-continent as a result of illegal migration into Assam and West Bengal and that he saw this movement as a “grave danger” to national as well as regional security, none dared call him fascist, communal or minority-hater. Of course, later, when we once met him in Delhi, Rajeshwar declined to entertain a discussion on his reading on infiltration and its consequences for eastern India.
The other one to raise the issue was Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. As chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb regularly met and pleaded with LK Advani, then deputy prime minister and home minister, for help in tackling the huge security and societal problem posed by illegal infiltrators. Nobody then had accused him of hobnobbing with a ‘reactionary” government. Buddhadeb who, to his credit, had realised how the Left’s policy of aiding and abetting illegal infiltration from Bangladesh had started back-firing, once publicly referred to the issue promising to take action against all unregistered madrassas that had mushroomed along the West Bengal-Bangladesh border. Even though his party apparatchiks, led by the late Anil Biswas whose stranglehold on the West Bengal unit of the CPI(M) was solid, had compelled Buddhadeb to retract his public utterance, Buddhadeb was not labelled communal – a habit his party regularly indulges in today whenever illegal migrants are referred to. Nor did Didi join issues with him on this count.
When the former Chief of Army Staff, General Shankar Roychowdhury, as Member of Parliament, raised the issue of illegal infiltration from Bangladesh and referred to how unabated influx had pushed India’s borders 20 km inside, no one, least of all Mamata who was among those who supported his candidature to the Upper House, accused him of being biased against Muslims. When the Delhi High Court in 2008 expressed concern over the increasing number of illegal immigrants in the national capital and saw them as a “threat to national security” or observed that “An increasing number of illegal immigrants in the capital are posing a great danger to our internal security,” did anyone find the statement communally motivated? In fact, like the Left, so captivated is Didi’s politics to the illegal infiltrator vote-bank that she has now become desperate in trying to protect them – in this she has out-Lefted the Left. Her mother-party of course has perfected the art, especially in Assam.
Following her penchant for obfuscating issues, Mamata is encouraging the false perception parroted by her political hangers-on that all refugees from Bangladesh would face the brunt of deportation once the BJP came to power. In fact, Didi’s theatrics and those of all her extras, in the last few days, have been based on propagating this falsehood. It is clear to all those who have discussed this issue or have been sufferers of persecution in Bangladesh that the BJP has always stood for India providing refuge to those minorities in Bangladesh or Pakistan who have had to migrate because of their religious beliefs. Narendra Modi has reiterated that all along.
Mamata, on the contrary, has never raised her voice in support of the persecuted minorities in Bangladesh. She has never assured them of a safe shelter in West Bengal. She has, never assuaged the feelings of those refugees who continue to live in challenging circumstances in the state. Like her Communist adversaries in the past, Mamata has only used them politically but has never showered them with sops or opportunities the way she has those who have come here, not to seek refuge from religious persecution, but to graze gratis in the greener pastures of economic opportunities that India offers. It is this duplicitous nature of her approach that is being exposed this election summer; naturally it is causing heart-burn and irrational outbursts.
Is it not legitimate and fair that those who are obstructed from celebrating the sacred “Durgashtami” in their homeland be allowed to observe it unhindered in their land of refuge?
But, as always, Mamata thinks otherwise; she has a vote-bank to appease!
Anirban Ganguly is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi.