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Kolkata rape case: Why has Didi gone mum?

Mamata Banerjee has become uncharacteristically silent.

At a time when she should be trumpeting the speed with which her Kolkata police seems to have cracked the case of the rape of the 37-year-old woman in a moving car, Didi has gone mum.

The reason is obvious. The CM had told media early on in the case that the whole rape was "concocted" to "malign" her government and that the details would be revealed soon.

The details were revealed and the Chief Minister has been caught on very much the wrong foot. The story was not fabricated. The woman had not lied. She had been lied to by the men who befriended her at the nightclub and gave her fake names. But the assault had happened.

As an opposition leader, she had built up her political reputation as the champion of the victim. In the process she sees herself as the permanent victim. Reuters

Now the spotlight has shifted to the CM herself. Why had she felt compelled to speak out on a case that was under investigation? Why had she not stopped her cabinet ministers from going on television shows to blame the victim for being out on her own that late at a nightclub?

Even her Trinamool colleagues are red-faced though none will go on the record. “This episode has not gone down well with the people and has hurt her image,” an unnamed Trinamool leader told The Telegraph.

Mamata, as an opposition leader, had built up her political reputation as the champion of the victim. In the process she sees herself as the permanent victim. As CM she is becoming a victim of her own paranoia, convinced that everything that happens in the state is somehow about her, and that everyone from her allies in the Congress to her opponents in the Left Front are out to get her.

“At a broader level Mamata has, since taking charge, harped unfailingly on the conspiracy refrain to tackle any dispute, be it sharing Teesta waters with Bangladesh or setting up a Lokayukta,” editorialises the Times of India.

Mamata, of all people, should have understood the vulnerability of a single woman out on her own, who seems to flout the middle class mores of Bengali society. The CPI-M leaders had gleefully made digs at her gender and singleness when she was an opposition leader. She has been compared to a “prostitute” and  disparaged as a “Kalighater mynah” (Kalighat is her family home, mynah is an overly talkative bird). A top Communist leader even snidely asked the media “Onar eto bukey laagey keno bolun to (Why does she keep getting hurt on the chest so much?)" after Mamata complained about being beaten up in clashes with police at Singur. "The CPI-M leveraged gender as a weapon to trivialise, even vulgarise, their rhetoric of attack on the Trinamool Congress president, her status as a single woman without the bulwark of exotic lineage or formidable rank of wealth and class shielding her,” writes Monobina Gupta in Didi, her political biography of Mamata.

Mamata once lambasted the CPI-M for using rape as a political weapon. The Singur agitation caught fire after the murder of a 16-year old woman. Mamata had fought tooth and nail for a CBI inquiry after the CPI-M was accused of launching a smear campaign accusing the young woman’s father of raping her. Now Mamata finds herself accused of inserting politics into a rape case. As a woman heading the government, she does not have to be a feminist. She does not even have to show any special sensitivity to women's issues. But there is no need to re-victimise the victim.

Mamata’s silence is uncharacteristic for the blunt plain-spoken politician that she is. She might well have made an honest mistake in this case. But to get out of this mess that she herself created, she must do something even more uncharacteristic. The state is watching.

We all know Mamata can fight. But can Mamata say sorry?