They both came promising change. For Mamata Banerjee, it was paribortan and the assurance that she would transform West Bengal after more than three decades of Left rule. For Anna Hazare, it was putting an end to corruption, a movement that resonated across the country and brought thousands out onto the streets.
However, in a recent development that not many foresaw, the two have combined forces. Earlier this week, Hazare decided to back Banerjee for the coming elections, the first time he has thrown his lot with a politician. Not even Arvind Kejriwal had that privilege.
Here are four things the anti-corruption activist should have thought of before coming out in support of Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress:
1. Not the cleanest company: Before KD Singh became a Trinamool Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha, he was fielded in the Upper House by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. In 2012, the CBI was reportedly probing if he had paid his way into getting there. A year before that, the Election Commission had also sent the Trinamool Congress a notice after Singh was caught carrying a “large sum of cash” on a flight to Assam where polls were underway. More recently, a company part of Singh’s Alchemist Group came under scrutiny from the Securities and Exchanges Board of India for having raised money from the public using allegedly dubious deposit schemes. Another suspended Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP, Kunal Ghosh, is already in jail for running a suspect investment firm. Not quite the sort of political company Hazare would want to be associated with.
2. No space for dissent here: For a while it became nearly impossible, if not illegal, to make fun of, or question the elected leader of West Bengal. Ambikesh Mahapatra, a professor at Jadavpur University, was arrested in April 2012 for allegedly circulating cartoons critical of the Chief Minister and was later charged under the Information Technology Act. A few months later, Siladitya Chowdhury was arrested after publicly asking Banerjee why farmers like him were getting such little help from the state government.
3. Comply, or you’re out: It’s not just the common man at the receiving end of the CM’s ire. Trinamool’s railway minister Dinesh Trivedi was sacked after presenting a budget that was widely acknowledged as a forward and reformist one. His big mistake: A proposal to implement much-needed fare hikes. The far more eccentric singer-turned-activist-turned-Trinamool MP Kabir Suman, too, had a very public falling out with Banerjee after he opposed the chief minister’s strategy in West Bengal’s Naxal-affected Lalgarh region.
4. Rape? It’s a Communist conspiracy: Banerjee may have spent the better part of her life fighting the Left, but even that could not sustain her bizarre reaction to a series of assaults on women in West Bengal. Following the Park Street rape and another incident in Katwa – the Chief Minister put the blame on the erstwhile ruling party even before the investigations were complete. Banerjee’s own insensitivity aside, another Trinamool minister, Madan Mitra went on to question the Park Street rape victim’s morality: “Why did a woman with kids at home, who is separated from her husband, go to a nightclub?” This was why women’s groups were outraged when Mamata and Hazare announced their pact, and while Anna may not have outrightly addressed this issue, his overtly moralistic ‘cure’ for alcohol consumption is well known.
Devjyot Ghoshal is a professional deadline beater and a multimedia journalist. Currently, he spends time attending lectures at the Columbia Journalism School. He argues with random people at @devjyotghoshal