Historians now doubt if Marie Antoinette actually said it. But the words, “Let them eat cake,” have since come to represent the height of a ruler’s insensitivity to a crisis facing the common people. It would be fanciful to draw any parallel between France on the eve of the French Revolution and present-day West Bengal. But the eight day long film festival, which opened in Calcutta on Saturday, cannot but remind one of the famous words popularly attributed to Marie Antoinette. The film festival comes only days after a long holiday season. The single most significant public event to have happened between the two seasons of festivities was the turmoil in the Haldia industrial complex, which led to the exit of an entrepreneur from Bengal and to several hundred people losing their jobs. The ruling party’s trade union not only incited the trouble but also took pride in having forced the entrepreneur to close shop. While the incident revived memories of the worst days of the flight of capital from Bengal in the 1960s and the 1970s and evoked fears of the unemployment scene getting worse, the chief minister blithely remarked, “Nothing happened.” Her reactions to many other events of public concern — the deteriorating law and order situation, the collapse of the healthcare system in government hospitals, criminal attacks on women and so on — have been pretty much as insensitive and irresponsible.
So what if people have died of dengue? So what if women cannot feel secure out on the street? And, so what if goons, masquerading as political activists, roam free, extorting money from businessmen and the common people? The chief minister’s answer to all such small irritants is to divide her time between one entertainment and another. Even before she assumed power, Mamata Banerjee had displayed a remarkable love for song, dance and most other things associated with the world of popular movies. The shows have been more frequent and more elaborate since then, thanks to the powers and resources of office. The absurdity of it all is quite obvious. What is not so obvious is the serious implication of a government being so insensitive to the problems, uncertainties and even dangers that increasingly confront ordinary people in their daily lives. This newspaper has always maintained that a government, either at the Centre or in a state, has no right or business to organize film festivals. Such festivals are among the worst examples of the misuse of public money.
In the case of a bankrupt state that has no money to finance development projects or even to pay salaries to its employees on time, such wasteful expenditures border on an abdication of the government’s responsibility. But then, governance seems to be the last thing on the agenda of the present regime in Bengal.