Mamata Banerjee faces fresh headwinds: West Bengal intellectuals side with doctors amid TMC-BJP battle for supremacy

Under fire West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is facing fresh headwinds as the battleground state’s intellectuals, who were one of her core support bases to dislodge the Left Front government in 2011, are increasingly disillusioned with her autocratic ways and appeasement politics.

Banerjee, known for an avowed distaste for all things highbrow, courted intellectuals for a shot at power during Singur and Nandigram agitations over a decade ago.

 Mamata Banerjee faces fresh headwinds: West Bengal intellectuals side with doctors amid TMC-BJP battle for supremacy

File image of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

But that equity, often seen as a slam-dunk moment in bloody Bengal politics, appears to be eroding fast, accentuated by Trinamool’s spectacular reverses in Lok Sabha polls amid a resurgent saffron wave sweeping across the state.

Bengal intellectuals’ growing aversion towards Banerjee is a realistic reflection of the mood on the ground.

They are a willing accomplice in the anti-Banerjee wave, capping a volte-face that’s more an opportunist politician’s forte.

Banerjee, once a chimera of political change, or poribortan, for a majority of Bengal’s ignited minds at the height of the Singur and Nandigram movements, has become a pariah, where her every move is under scrutiny. Her levity is her undoing, feel a majority of the intellectuals.

Many intellectuals have either emerged as trenchant critics of the chief minister or are sitting on the fence, and could switch to the saffron camp at an opportune moment.

Actress-filmmaker Aparna Sen is publicly taking on Banerjee. She has blamed the chief minister for the exponential rise in communal conflagration as the Trinamool’s bitter rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party, adds fuel to the fire. The communal divide, she said, is hitherto unseen even during the change-resistant Left Front rule.

Bengal’s civil society drifted away from Banerjee even during her first term as chief minister.

Disgruntled academician Sunando Sanyal resigned as chairman of the higher education committee barely three months after his appointment because the chief minister’s “unilateral decisions on key academic issues.”

Painter Samir Aich, who rallied behind Banerjee during her untiring battle against the Left Front, was also upset by her “autocratic ways.”

Painters Jogen Chowdhury and Suvaprasanna are still nursing their hurt in private, unlike actor Kaushik Sen or Aparna Sen. Theatre personality Shaoli Mitra, who offered to resign as the chairperson of Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi over "lack of infrastructure and difficulties in performing duties" last year, too, is visibly unhappy with the chief minister.

But, two recent incidents — since the Lok Sabha results were declared — have been a litmus test of intellectuals’ loyalty.

ln June, both Kaushik and Aparna waded in to the junior doctors’ ceasework at Nil Ratan Sarkar (NRS) Hospital in central Kolkata. The grievous assault on a junior doctor at NRS Hospital by a patient’s family snowballed into a raging political controversy and triggered a nationwide stir.

The symbolism on the Sens’ visit to the hospital wasn’t lost on Banerjee's critics, whose numbers are swelling by the day.

Later, Banerjee made a conciliatory remark towards the intellectuals ("they’re well within their right to visit the protest venue, though they might not be fully aware of knowing all aspects of the case"), but her Queen-size ego — for her steadfast refusal to meet the protesting junior doctors at the hospital —became a talking point, and added sheen to the stir.

The chief minister saw the crisis spiral out of control from Nabanna — the administration seat of Bengal government — on television as the Opposition piled on more misery, aided and abetted by a section of intellectuals.

To make matters worse, the unrelenting political violence since the election results is trampling upon dissent, debate and freedom of expression with unflinching regularity.

Bhatpara in North 24 Parganas, on the outskirts of Kolkata and a microcosm of suburban industrial decay in south Bengal, is one of the epicentres of political violence.

Banerjee’s man Friday-turned-arch enemy Mukul Roy — saffron party’s prized scalp in Bengal — and turncoat Trinamool strongman and BJP’s Barrackpore MP Arjun Singh’s writ runs large in Bhatpara, where the cornered Trinamool has been waging a losing battle for domination that has claimed at least seven lives.

In the backdrop of unabated spiralling political violence, Aparna and Kaushik stirred the troubled Bhatpara pot on Thursday. They visited the hotspot, and questioned Banerjee's recalcitrance to send a delegation to Bhatpara and calm the nerves of frayed locals.

Though both Aparna and Kaushik spoke of locals as unfortunate victims of Trinamool-BJP rivalry, their tone didn’t make for a pretty picture, especially for the Banerjee administration.

As if on the Sens' cue, an eight-member Trinamool Legislature Party delegation visited Bhatpara on Friday to assuage the locals, who are seething because of the ruling party's alleged nonchalance to their plight.

So, how does a cornered chief minister make peace with Bengal’s intelligentsia who are unforgiving of her excesses and have all but abandoned her?

Perhaps she’s willing to trade brains for skin-deep beauty and political novices. She’s banking on first-time MPs Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan to cast their spell and gloss over the deepening political crisis. She’s hoping their charm and popular appeal will sway an unsuspecting public as intellectuals continue to question her divide-and-rule politics.

Can Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan hold a candle to Aparna Sen and Kaushik Sen?

History hasn't been favourable to such poorly thought out moves that smack of gimmickry.

Updated Date: Jun 28, 2019 18:57:34 IST