One step back, two steps forward. Caught in a similar dilemma, the CPM would have tried to justify such a move with a little twist to the Leninist prescription. No such thinking could have prompted Mamata Banerjee’s decision to postpone her 48-hour bandh call. Between the vandalism at the Assembly and her 17-day fast, she has already taken too many steps without getting anywhere; her only option, therefore, remains to step back.
She would obviously protest any suggestion of a retreat. But her defiance henceforth can only sound more and more defensive or even unreal. Like the reason she cited for postponing the bandh.
It is not uncommon for political parties in Bengal to postpone or re-schedule their agitation programmes so that Durga puja or Id festivities are not affected. Not even her party faithful believe that the Christmas and New Year celebrations were the real reason, as Mamata said, for her sudden change of heart.
The decision to call off the bandh was, first of all, an admission that her plans had gone terribly wrong both for her politics and for the Singur issue, on which she had started the fast. Other moves, such as the violence in the Assembly, had also proved equally counter-productive. The late realisation of the huge indiscretion about the bandh made it impossible even for her to continue to keep up a brave front. Hence the retreat.
|"We always respond to mass appeal. Every festival is our
festival and so we decided to postpone our strike call"
It is no secret that even her closest party colleagues were taken aback by her decision to call the bandh in response to the murder of the young woman, Tapasi Malik, in Singur. Her bandh call upset them for two reasons — they knew that the people, who had been lukewarm anyway in their support to her Singur campaign, would be angry at the frequency of shutdowns.
The other thing that upset Mamata’s colleagues and allies was the fear that the bandh call would deflect public attention from Singur to Mamata and her brand of politics. Even the Socialist Unity Centre of India, an otherwise bandh-happy party, tried to persuade Mamata not to call one. But Mamata doesn’t like advice or those giving it.
So, what prompted her to do the unthinkable' There are several versions. First, the fear of public anger and of the possibility of the people’s defiance of the bandh. The signs were there during the bandh she had called on December 1. Even the Left trade union-sponsored bandh a fortnight later, though it shut down Bengal because of the Citu’s muscle-flexing and the government’s failure to keep transport running, faced the same public anger.
The chief minister’s decision to hand over to the CBI the inquiry into Tapasi’s death took the wind out of Mamata’s bandh-sail. She needed something to get out of the bandh. She had hoped to project a decision to withdraw the bandh call as a gesture countering the chief minister’s move.
|"Whether we will go for it (bandh) again will depend on the government’s decision on our demand for returning farmland"
There seems to be another reason, which is more political. Mamata was subsequently convinced that the bandh call gave the CPM a huge advantage. If the Marxists needed another evidence to tell the people that Bengal’s politics and economy were not safe in the hands of “irresponsible” leaders, the bandh call provided them just that evidence. Instead of the bandh creating anything like a winning situation for her, it was a sure way of losing the game.
So, when Left Front chairman Biman Bose said he was “relieved” by Mamata’s decision, he was telling a half-truth. The other part of the truth is that the CPM would have liked Mamata to go ahead with the bandh and be further damned by it.
It is another question if the bandh’s postponement can repair, even partly, the damage the Singur-related violence and agitation have done to the new image of Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is so keen to put forth before investors.
All this is not to suggest Mamata is going to back out of the Singur fight anytime soon. Or, that there would be no more protests in other forms. But the bandh retreat could trigger a Singur rethink.