Debating India


Desperate causes and fraught methods

Friday 22 December 2006, by DAM*Marcus

Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee’s decision to call a bandh was as much a desperate act of a leader running out of ideas as was the decision to put it on hold.

TO SAY Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee’s volte-face over her call for a 48-hour West Bengal bandh from Thursday morning came as a relief to the people would be an understatement. To suggest that it might be a sign of a shift in perceptions for one sinking deeper into the vortex of obstructionist politics, would be premature too.

It would be na?ve to believe Ms. Banerjee’s reason for putting the bandh call on hold. That it was in deference to the sentiments of the Christian community can, at best, be only an apology of an explanation. Surely a better Christmas gift would have been an end to her hunger strike, which entered its 18th day on Thursday. The merits of the protest against the allegedly forcible acquisition of land for the proposed car-manufacturing project at Singur are arguable; not so the popular anxiety over her health.

The bandh, had it come off, would have been the first two-day State-wide bandh in 40 years. Calling it was as much a desperate act of a leader fast running out of ideas, as was the decision to put it on hold.

The initial desperation had stemmed from being denied the very purported purpose of the bandh announcement: an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the death of a teenage girl whose charred body was found in the fields of Singur this week. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee prompty agreed to the demand, upstaging the Trinamool leadership seeking to extract political mileage from it. Then came a change in plans - the initial demand for a stop to the forcible acquisition of farmland was replaced by one for the return of all the land acquired. A deadline was set. But by the time it had expired, Ms. Banerjee changed her mind.

Meanwhile, pressure to withdraw the bandh call mounted. What finally made her do it is unclear. Could it be a reminder from a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court of the ban against bandhs? Was it the growing discontent within a section of her party leadership with the call, given less than three weeks after a bandh had been sponsored by the Trinamool on the same issue? Or was it the warning from representatives of the city’s chambers of commerce that frequent bandhs would imperil future investment prospects in the State?

Also, Ms. Banerjee’s hunger strike no longer engages public discourse in the manner that was expected. She spurned repeated appeals to call it off following the Chief Minister’s expressed willingness to discuss with her issues related to the Singur project.Although she has backed out of the bandh, she is disinclined to talk on a subject that has assumed importance in the context of the State’s industrialisation drive. Even a suggestion from Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi that she and other protesters "should conserve their energy and direct it towards evolving long-term norms for land-use and land-conversion in a State where agriculture is paramount and industrialisation is also imperative" is waiting to be heeded.

The Left Front Government is sending across a message that is loud and clear - of its steadfastness to its agenda of industrial rejuvenation in the State.

Ms. Banerjee may be keen on redeeming her political credibility and retrieving for her party lost ground. By putting on hold the bandh but keeping alive the threat of resorting to it in the future she can hardly achieve these goals. Dialogue rather than confrontation should be the right course of action for her.

See online : The Hindu

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