Mamata's paranoia

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is becoming more and more intolerant and paranoid about individuals who question her and institutions which she is oath-bound to protect.

A simple question asked by a villager at a public meeting about rising fertiliser prices and farmer deaths was enough to brand to him a Maoist. Even though he was in fact a supporter of her own party, he was arrested, let off and rearrested and is now facing charges which may land him in prison. Some students got into trouble a few weeks ago for asking her questions she did not like in a TV talk show. A professor was arrested for forwarding on the internet a cartoon that lampooned her. Any word of criticism is taken as a sign of a conspiracy to unseat her.


The allergy to adverse comments and unfavourable opinions extends to institutions also. Earlier this week she cast aspersions on the judiciary and judicial bodies by claiming that judgments can be bought for money. The statement was made at an official seminar in the West Bengal Assembly. It was highly inappropriate and irresponsible on the part of the chief minister to make a sweeping statement about the judicial system in public in so cavalier a manner.

 

The immediate reason for the tirade, it may be assumed, might have been the striking down of the Singur land legislation by the Calcutta high court. If there is dissatisfaction with the working of the judiciary or a specific complaint against any judge, there are institutional ways of redressing it. It is wrong to make charges without substantiating them and throw mud on the entire judicial system.


Mamata also criticised ‘committees and commissions in the country’ for their lack of ‘accountability’ after the state human rights commission awarded compensation to two people, including the professor who circulated the cartoon, and recommended action against the policemen who arrested them. Obviously the comment was an attempt to hit back at the body whose order has embarrassed her.

 

The increasingly intolerant ways and words of the chief minister has started creating discomfort even among her supporters. There are cases of people losing their freedom or lives for asking inconvenient questions in authoritarian societies. But questions are vital in a democracy and Mamata Banerjee is yet to learn this. She should remember that she came to power after posing to the people of the state questions about the Left Front government.

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