Mamata Banerjee’s star in West Bengal seems to be on the wane.
It is well-known that Singur was the flashpoint that ignited the Trinamool Congress fire, which finally swept the West Bengal Assembly polls in 2011. Admittedly, this could not have happened without the tinder being ready all over the State for an electoral revolution, following the gradual decline of the CPM. CPM was hit by a severe dilution in its ideological moorings. But it is also true that the 2011 electoral upheaval could not have occurred if there had been no focal point for the resentment against CPM to express itself. This focal point was provided by Mamata Banerjee, who took full advantage of the administrative lapses of the Left Front Government and turned a fundamentally local issue into a State-wide campaign, which finally proved to be the nemesis of the Left Front’s 34-year rule in West Bengal.
The Singur agitation against land acquisition by the State Government for the Tata small-car project (subsequently moved to Gujarat) was not the single-handed creation of Mamata Banerjee, but was galvanised and spearheaded by local leaders like the then-septuagenarian Rabindranath Bhattacharyya, known as mastermoshai. When the Trinamool Congress Government came to power, people like Bhattacharyya were rightly honoured by being given responsible positions in the new Government --- Bhattacharrya being given the important portfolio of School Education and subsequently moved to Agriculture.
It is an open secret that the Trinamool Congress is riddled with factionalism, which is growing, and it is no surprise that on November 21, Bhattacharyya was shifted to the Statistics and Programme Implementation department, a job which the respected school-teacher from Singur refused to take up because, as he put it, “hundreds of farmers” asked him not to accept the transfer from the Agriculture Ministry.
There is no reason to doubt the veracity of Bhattacharyya’s statement, which means that the people of Singur — from where Mamata Banerjee began her run for power — are not happy with her performance. Perhaps, more importantly, the Chief Minister has openly refused to accept the views of mastermoshai, which cannot but dent her image further in Singur.
The irony of Mamata Banerjee’s star sinking in the very region which catapulted her into Writers’ Buildings cannot be lost on observers of Bengal’s political scene. The refrain now will be: if Singur has lost faith in Banerjee, can the entire State be very far behind?
Muddying the waters even further are the growing reports that there are other flashpoints, one example being the slapping of defamation charges by a party MLA (the wife of an erstwhile senior State Congress leader and now Trinamool Trinamul MP) on none than Partha Chatterjee, the Industries Minister. The ongoing drama involving the labour leader Shovandeb Chattopadhyay, a senior Trinamool MLA, and the Chief Minister — the latter delaying taking action on an intra-party fracas at Calcutta University in which Chattopadhyay was at the receiving end — is also playing itself out.Mamata Banerjee is, of course, aware that her government’s image is being sullied by such incidents. Given her nature, she will fight back — in the process, perhaps harming her prospects even further.