The Chhattisgarh

Beyond The Region

How Mamata Banerjee weakened the party she founded

On the last Thursday of May, a week after the general election results, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made a confession in public.

“Till today,” she said, “I have not allowed Trinamool Congress [TMC] to run the trade unions properly so that industry can function…Now I will strengthen the unions.” She referred to her welfare and conditional cash transfer schemes, four dozen in number, and made a similar argument, admitting that she did not dedicate enough time to her organisation, founded in 1998.

“I may have done little more than I should have done [in running the government]. I will now devote more time to the party.” Precisely, all of the TMC’s problems stem from a severe weakening of the organisation, which– without a doubt– is Ms. Banerjee’s doing. She assumed that a powerful political organisation is detrimental to delivery of services. Unanimously her associates argue that she made a mistake.

A district magistrate (DM), who is close to the Chief Minister, told The Hinduthat weakening the party to enhance the government’s performance “could be a mistake.”

“The CPI(M) channelised services through local committees or gram panchayats [GPs], underscoring the party’s relevance in the daily life. In the TMC’s case, the administration replaced the party. Today, a person does not need to make rounds of party offices to avail conditional cash transfer [and other] schemes. He can meet government officials who coordinate the disbursal,” the DM said. This massively improved the service delivery, indicated impartial international agencies like the United Nations, but weakened the party.

Mamtaz Begum, a dedicated TMC activist, explained how and why efficient delivery of freebies weakened the party.

“The benefits are not delivered by the GP members who are affiliated to the party and marshal the elections, but by adhikariks [government officials] who do not organise elections for the party,” said Ms Begum, the TMC chief of Nayarhat GP in Cooch Behar district. The 49-year-old activist argued that when a government official hands over benefits, voters tend to feel that it is a government project and they have “an unconditioned right” to receive it.

“How would a party benefit from that,” she said. Besides, “extending all facilities to all indiscriminately was a mistake.”

“Everyone feels that even if they do not vote [for the TMC] they would be able to avail the benefits, and make a beeline for the BDO’s office instead of coming to the party office…voters know small-time neighbourhood leaders are powerless,” Ms Begum argued. She refused to accept that the fear of corruption compelled Ms. Banerjee to implement schemes through officials. “If you cook fish at home, cats will come. Will you stop cooking fish?”, she asked.

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