Mamata Banerjee is right to be puzzled. She is being unfairly pilloried in the death of the SFI student leader, Sudipto Gupta in custody. There is no reason to believe this was part of some grand conspiracy to put the fear of God (or Didi) into SFI student activists.
Based on what facts are out there, that death might well be an accident though only an inquiry will establish that. The post-mortem has not found evidence of injuries caused by “a lathi, rod or glass".
But with temperatures inflamed all around, everyone has already made up their minds about the death of Sudipto Gupta. “Sudipto would not have died had he been a member of Trinamool’s student wing,” one of his neighbours told The Times of India. “It’s politics that killed him on Tuesday and it’s politics that’s denying him justice now.” That’s an unfair accusation to lay at Mamata’s door.
But having said all that, Mamata is caught in a trap of her own making. Here are five reasons why.
Being Mamata means seeing a red under every bed. Mamata will never live down the ignominy of the Park Street rape case because that’s where we first got a real taste of her paranoia that everything was part of a conspiracy to knock her down.
As I’ve said before, just because you are paranoid, it does not mean they are not out to get you. But Mamata’s penchant for seeing “sajana ghatana” (fabricated events) and “chakranto” (conspiracy) everywhere means she can hardly complain that everyone else also pays her back in the same coin. They too will see the conspiracy in events, like the SFI leader’s death, which might well be accidents. Just as one good turn deserves another, one conspiracy theory begets another.
Being Mamata means never having to say sorry. Mamata’s great asset was that she had always seemed a real person, not a cardboard politician sticking to carefully scripted sound bytes. She was the padayatra woman while her opponents rode in jeeps surrounded by Z-level security.That Mamata has increasingly disappeared.
Instead we have the I-am-always-right know-it-all Didi who labels anyone who questions her in a public forum a Maoist. If Mamata had ever acknowledged a mistake or said something was an overreaction (the Ambikesh Mahapatra cartoon case) or even that she had spoken without knowing the full facts and regretted it (Park Street rape case), people would be more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. However Mamata not only never apologises, as if that would be beneath her. And the more criticism she gets, the more she digs her heels in.
Being Mamata means the cops dance to your tune. Her lieutenant in the Rajya Sabha, Derek O’Brien told CNN-IBN that between 1977 and 2011, police in Bengal had a clear mandate to “do their policing through the prism of red or pink.” Now he claims, the police are finally independent – “there is no prism or red, green or blue".
And we have a Howrah Bridge we can sell someone as well. “It’s a fact that as long as the Left ruled West Bengal, the entire police department was forced to be slave to political masters,” Amal Kumar Mukhopadhay, former principal of Presidency College said in an interview to TOI. “As a result the Kolkata police and the Bengal police known in the past for their efficiency, had no scope to decide and act independently – the present government has been faithfull following in the same tradition.”
So high-ranking police officers from Damayanti Sen (in the Park Street rape case) to Ranjit Pachnanada (in the Garden Reach killing of a police officer) who contradicted the government have found themselves shunted off.
Being Mamata means the opposition is the devil. Mamata’s party faced much derision for its diktat about no tea with Communists. That kind of ideological purity is a little rich coming from a woman who has flitted from NDA to UPA with consummate ease.
Her party might rightly claim that it’s because the Communists have killed thousands of Trinamool workers when they were in power. But they are no longer in power and the people voted for parivartan not just a change of costume. Either way, it means that she has remained the supremo of Trinamool instead of elevating herself to the chief minister of all West Bengal. Her party leaders might make a virtue of how she is “reaching out” to the other side because she offered her condolences and help to Sudipto Gupta’s family.
But should she really be surprised that her condolence gesture has been met with slogan shouting? After all this was the woman who once dismissed a rape case in Katwa as “concocted” because she alleged the woman’s husband was a CPM sympathizer. He had been dead for over a decade.
Being Mamata means you cannot take your foot out of your mouth. Though she flies into a dudgeon for being misinterpreted and misquoted, and blames some media outlets for an anti-Mamata vendetta, Didi just cannot resist letting loose 1000 words where 100 would suffice. “I don’t want to make any comments. Let the investigation be over. Don’t keep fueling unnecessary speculation, please,” MK Narayanan, the governor of West Bengal told the media.
“We are not ruling anything out at this stage,” Jawed Shamim, the special additional commissioner of police told reporters while releasing the post mortem findings on Gupta's death. If only one of Mamata’s handlers would tell her to take a cue from these gentlemen.
Instead she quickly issued her own verdict of “accident” before the post mortem was done as if she was signaling the result she wanted. She inflamed temperatures by saying her party too had lost many cadre who rode on the foot-board of trains.
Perhaps she meant it as a sort of I-feel-your-pain gesture but it sounded as if Sudipto’s death while in police custody was being equated to an accident on a local trainn. And she still has not stopped talking describing the entire brouhaha as a “small” and “petty matter”. It’s not clear whether she was talking about Sudipto’s death or the furore afterwards. Either way her loose tongue just adds to the anger when her job is to calming things down.
Mamata Banerjee might not care about any of this. “She is convinced the people of rural Bengal will happily lap up what Kolkata rejects and detests – her land acquisition policies, her doles and promises, her flippant and frivolous language, her gung-ho attitude, as also her humble background and grooming,” writes Suman Chattopadhyay in an op-ed.
Kolkata might be expendable but Mamata needs to ask what she gains by needlessly squandering the mandate and goodwill she once had. She might be right about the cause of the death of Sudipto Gupta but she should think long and hard about why ordinary citizens do not want to give her the benefit of that doubt.