A recent arrest of Ambika Mahapatra, a professor of Physical Chemistry in the Jadavpur University of Kolkata left the city agitated with protests from student and teacher communities and civil society organizations. The social media sites like Facebook buzzed with angry to humorous protests by netizens mocking and rediculing the Police and the State Administration for excessive regulation of freedom of expression and political over-lordship. Ms. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and her less than one year old administration came under severe criticism as well.
Mahapatra, as story unfolds, has allegedly distributed emails containing cartoons showing a distraught Dinesh Tribedy, former Railway Minister of India from Trina Mool Congress under Ms. Banerjee, Mukul Roy, the TMC leader who succeeded Tribedy in the Ministry and Ms. Banerjee who sacked Tribedy for hiking railway fares in the recent budgets in defiance of Ms. Banerjee’s whip not to hike railway fare to save common people from financial burdens. Incidentally, Mamata herself, as Railway Minister, resisted attempts to raise railway fare in successive budgets in the past. The common people, however, understand that putting ban on fare hike indefinitely as a matter of policy is superficially populist and impractical in the background of a common market trend of inflation and economic realities of the country. Such stand, many argue, only results in the whole country subsidizing the railways, as goods fare of Indian Railways was under no such ban. Possibly Tribedy failed to tow the party line when it was on a conflict with the greater and National interest. The manner in which Tribedy was removed was not liked generally in West Bengal despite Ms. Banerjee’s defense that she has every right to decide who will be the Railway Minister as Mrs. Sonia Gandhi had decided who would be the Prime Minister of India, making a reference to selection of Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. The comparison is politically charged but wafer thin as Dr. Singh had never been a replacement Minister. The general discontent against a political arrogance was ready in West Bengal for months, Mahapatra’s alleged cartoon was just one leaf caught in the wind.
To get a feeling of the wind, consider these. Pritish Nandy, a writer and a film producer, said the new CM had failed to meet the expectations of people. “I am one of many Indians (and Bengalis) who dreamt of a new, resurgent Bengal under you, Mamata. May I simply say We are not impressed?” he tweeted. Amit Aggarwal, one of India’s top bloggers, tweeted, “Mamata Banerjee is the new Kapil Sibal.”Using a hashtag – #arrestmenow – the web users in twitter and other social media sites, posted tweets, slamming India’s IT rules, which were used by police to justify the arrest, and joked about Mamata Banerjee for “not having a sense of humour”. Armed with 140 characters, twitterati, as it is their wont, took subtle digs at Mamata. Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) wrote, “Dear Mamata, Normally, the cartoonist tries to capture the subject. Not vice versa. #ArrestMeNow #Rehashtag.”Another @TheComicProject drew a reference from Hollywood. “Mamata declares The Dark Knight tax-free. Because The Joker dies,” he tweeted.
What is seen as more sinister than a mere Police mistake is the fact that Mahapatra had been beaten up and traumatized by four alleged TMC supporters of the locality who dragged him to the police station where police was obliged to write down an FIR (first information report) without verification of the bonafides of the complainants and the accused and keep Mahapatra in police lockup overnight only to be released by a Magistrate next day under a bail. There is a common perception in the air that Police did act without maturity and the slew of charges brought against Mahapatra, particularly damaging the modesty of a woman, are frivolous. It also unearths the long tradition of using the Police and Administration by the political masters to subdue and intimidate any difference or discontent of the public. But the current incidence was glaringly brazen. In the wake of popular protest, the State Administration is now distancing itself from Police and the four who beat up Mahapatra have been arrested and released under bails, in an act of damage control.
Ironically, Mamata Banerjee came to power in the last elections, only a year ago, riding on a wave of approval and support by people to her byline of Paribartan or Change to defeat the archrivals, the left coalition front led by CPIM (Communist Party of India, Marxist) that ruled Bengal for over three decades. When looked back the nose dive of her popularity graph appears surreal. However, this is not without reasons. Ms. Banerjee, apart from Rail Ministry issue, took some controversial decisions; banning popular news papers from Government aided libraries being one. Her government’s list of approved news papers has at least a couple of rookies that are run by her party leaders. In West Bengal, general mismanagement is tolerated with a chuckle but Bengalees are very sensitive about their choice of reading. In Nonadanga Kolkata Suburbs, where the Government is trying to take over a piece of land from a group of squatters demanding rehabilitation, there had been instances of police atrocities and the arrest of scientist Partha Sarathi Ray, arrested in connection with Nonadanga agitation. An assistant professor of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research – an institute under the ministry of human resource development ( MHRD), Ray was not present at Nonadanga or at Ruby Crossing on April 4 afternoon when police stopped the rally of the activists. His colleagues placed documents showing that Ray was at Kalyani University – nearly 70 km from the agitation site. Members of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), along with other activists, have launched a signature campaign demanding Ray’s release. The Nonadanga agiatation is hurting Ms. Banerjee with the same weapons that she used to hurt the previous Government in Singur and Nandigram events. In an irony of fate, a section of Mamata faithfuls from the Kolkata Literati are now protesting against her actions. She also had to take the bitter pill of transferring Damayanti Sen, a decorated police officer in the aftermath of Sen’s public disagreement with her to rubbish a rape complaint as ‘made up’ and succeeding in arresting the perpetrators quickly. Since Sen’s actions proved Ms. Banerjee wrong, her transfer, even if routine, will now be looked as an act of silencing a courageous government servant. Life for Ms. Banerjee has come to a full cycle in a span of a couple of years making her realize that running a government is quite a different business from organizing protests.
Mamata is making appeals to reach the public saying that she wants to learn from mistakes and move ahead in the Development path with backing from everyone. Truly, that is exactly what Bengal needs most, the development. The last regime of the left rulers has left it bankrupt, whimpering and licking wounds. Everybody want’s resurgence of a New Bengal, but not at the cost of sensitivity towards rights to protest, debate and be humorously critical. This Bengaliness will always see recklessness as different from boldness, obscenity as different from humour and arrogance as different from courage. Ms. Banerjee was not elected to make mistakes and in less than one year people are talking about too many of them.
Vijay Singh drew a cartoon in his blog The Nut Cases where he sees Mamata as the queen of Bengal. Mamata herself is a painter, she is supposed to like it and have a good laugh. Why let some goons moral policing for her?
Feature Image Credit: Bangaliana
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