There has been a veritable deluge of criticism of Mamata and the Trinamool on the arrest of a Jadavpur professor for circulating through email a gentle spoof on Mamata's sacking of the Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi.
From life imitating cartoons to Mamata suffering from certifiable paranoia – this has been the refrain in the mass media. By this single act, Mamata and her regime have subjected themselves to far greater ridicule than what Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra could have ever managed.
But all this is missing the point. The issue is not what she or her ministers think is the law of the land. Nor that she is proclaiming les majeste as the new standard in Bengal – anything critical of her would henceforth constitute a criminal offence. The issue is much bigger -- what kind of a regime do we now have in West Bengal?
The only parallel to the current regime is the one that the Left in Bengal defeated 34 years back. The regime that ran Bengal after a rigged elections in 1972 and ran it for five years. What Ashok Mitra aptly called the hoodlum years.
Let us look at the incident itself. Trinamool leaders are associated with some contractors who inflate bills and demand these bills be paid. On the Housing Society refusing to pay such bills, the office bearers are threatened. Then the Mamata cartoons are used, first to beat up Ambikesh Mahapatra and the police files cases against him and another office bearer under various sections including cyber crime. We have here a perfect example of what is happening in Bengal today – contractors, Trinamool goons and the police all working together to stamp out all resistance. Either politically, or even in small matters such as paying inflated bills.
Neither is this an isolated example. Just a month back, Pradip Ta and Kamal Gayen, two senior leaders of the CPI(M) in Burdhwan were brutally murdered in broad daylight. They are amongst hundreds of left activists who have died after Trinamool came to power in Bengal. In each case, Mamata and her colleagues have defended the indefensible, trotting out the 34-years of Left Rule as the excuse.
Nor are her defence of what is happening limited to attacks on the Left. She has also condoned two rapes. claiming that both were concocted merely to malign her. She has banned popular newspapers from public libraries, the ones being allowed are those with connections to Trinamool. One can multiply her plunge – from the merely stupid to the really dangerous for the state and its people. And this is where the 34 years of Left rule becomes so important and so different from what she is creating in Bengal today.
In 1971, the Congress – particularly Youth Congress, their youth wing and Chatra Parishad, the student wing – had started local level progroms. This was done by bringing criminal elements and the police together to wipe out the Naxalites and the CPI(M) in each locality. In some of the places, there were mass killings. I still remember how the whole program was co-ordinated. The police would cordon off large areas, pick up people and then withdraw allowing the Youth Congress hoods to move in. What people forget is that while Priyaranjan Das Munshi and Subroto Mukherjee were the leaders of this operation, Mamata started her politics precisely in this period. All this culminated in the Emergency and Mrs. Gandhi's 19 months authoritarian rule – from 1975 to 1977. Unlike other states, Bengal went through a combination of street and police terror first and then the Emergency.
During the JP Movment, JP came to Kolkata. I still remember his car being stopped by the Congress goons and Mamata dancing a jig on the bonnet of his car. Democracy was never her hall-mark – strong-arm tactics and bullying is what she revelled in then and what she is instituting now.
Every time Mamata is caught in an indefensible act, 34 years of Left Rule is trotted out as her alibi. Not only by her supporters, but also by some of her critics. That is why it is important to go back 34 years and see what the Left actually did when the Congress lost power after the emergency.
There was an expectation that returning CPI(M) cadre would seek retribution. That did not happen. Instead, the Left instituted a policy of reconciliation in which not only was there no retribution, all political prisoners of all hues were released. Cases against Congress workers were dropped, even though there were enough witnesses to their acts of murder and mayhem against the left cadre.
Contrast this with what is happening today. Party offices are being attacked and closed. Where Panchayats are under the left, even their offices are being locked up. People are being beaten up on the streets or in their homes What is being instituted is every day intimidation and bullying on a mass scale.
For those who are discovering Mamata's authoritarian streak now, they have some hard choices. They can either acknowledge they made a huge mistake in supporting her. Or they can the join mainstream media in saying that she is becoming like the left, giving her and themselves an indirect alibi; till this excuse also wears out.
One of the reasons that the left ran Bengal for 34 years is the memory of those hoodlum years. Even when people were critical of the left, they did not want those years back. It has taken Trinamool and Congress 34 years for the memories to fade. To remind us of the adage that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.