If any state of the Union has come to epitomise the word “chaos”, it is Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal in 2019. Perhaps no other state in this country appears to be getting sucked into a whirlpool of violence and mayhem, from where coming out may get difficult in the near future. Bengal is no novice when it comes to political violence and bloodshed, but adding to the problem of political chaos—where post poll violence has become the order of the day—is administrative chaos. Considering Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself holds the portfolios of home and health, it is a surprise that she let the crisis stemming from the life-threatening attacks on junior doctors at Kolkata’s Nilratan Sarkar Medical College to spin out of control. What did the CM achieve first by ignoring the crisis and then warning the doctors of dire consequences if they did not fall in line? What did she achieve by politicising the unrest by describing the doctors as “outsiders” backed by opposition forces? In fact, this was the tone of even her Saturday press conference: that if she wanted she could have taken punitive action against the doctors, but was not doing so and was instead requesting them to join work. She was also in no mood to apologise for the comments made against the doctors, a key demand of the striking professionals. The assurance of providing security to the doctors should have come right in the beginning. Also the promise to bring the culprits to book. But she waited for days before trying to address the doctors’ concerns. In the meantime, the whole nation witnessed with horror the situation snowballing into a humanitarian crisis, apart from a law and order problem. Her threats hardened resolve and doctors across the nation rose up in protest in solidarity with the doctors of Bengal. It is not understood why immediate and exemplary action was not taken against the culprits. By taking exemplary action against the criminals, who came in truckloads to assault the junior doctors, the CM could have proved to her critics that she was not indulging in vote bank politics, a charge that has been hurled at her by her opponents in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Through her inaction she fed into the dominant narrative in Bengal that for her administration, one community—to which all the attackers belonged—is more equal than others. If it was ego that prevented the CM from taking a conciliatory approach, then it is highly deplorable. In fact, she is still unwilling to go and meet the protesting doctors at NRS. There is no place for pride in public service. Her party colleagues themselves are uneasy at the way things have unfolded and many of their family members, gauging the public mood, have started speaking out in favour of the protesting doctors. It is also not understood why a Chief Minister will use intemperate language against both her political opponents and protesters—language which can be interpreted by her party cadre as a signal for a “free for all”. Political goons have added to the anarchy by attacking the protesting doctors. But then intimidation does not work in the face of public anger. Mamata Banerjee should have realised this by now, especially after the Lok Sabha election results, where intimidation could not stop voters from expressing their anger against her administration, by bringing the BJP on an even keel with the TMC.
BJP’s growth in the state has been people-driven, else, given its organisational weakness there, it could not have won 18 Lok Sabha seats compared to TMC’s 22. The doctors’ agitation in the state is an expression of that anger. It is the ground that is seething with rage and sadly Mamata Banerjee, once a canny politician, is failing to read the pulse of her people. In fact it is this failure that is also resulting in the attempt to create a divide between Bengalis and the “outsider non Bengalis”. The people of Bengal are far too integrated with the national mainstream for this pitiable attempt of promoting “soft separatism”, or “Bengali sub nationalism”, to succeed. But it’s a dangerous attempt, nonetheless, apart from being desperate. In this context, her reaction to “provocations” of “Jai Sri Ram” slogan has been rather surprising and does not behove the Constitutional post she occupies. The head of a state government losing her temper in public does not inspire confidence among voters. As it is post poll political violence is reaching unimaginable proportions in the state. While the BJP too has been paying back in kind, there is no comparison to what the TMC has been perpetrating, especially since it rules the state and has the wherewithal to make the lives of its opponents miserable. In the process, the state is sliding down a dangerous path. The question uppermost on people’s mind is: is Mamata Banerjee losing control of her administration and her party? Does she realise that she is on a self destructive mode? But why will people pay a price for that? Why will they suffer? The need of the day is the restoration of order. This anarchy cannot continue. There has to be accountability. Bengal is not the fiefdom of any person or a political party. Bengal is an integral part of the Union of India and short of Article 356, it’s time the Central government thought of ways to mitigate the suffering of the people of the state. Federalism cannot be an excuse for perpetuating authoritarianism.