Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee certainly has a sense of occasion if nothing else. She chose to hold her so-called apolitical rally in Lalgarh on August 9, the anniversary of the launch of the Quit India movement. Ms Banerjee’s motives for this rally against police oppression among other things may not be quite as noble as those of the Mahatma but it is sure to raise many discomfiting questions in the days to come. The rally held under the aegis of the ‘Santras Birodhi Mancha’ was meant to be a rallying point for tribals in the state. What will cause concern, however, is the support extended by the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), a Maoist outfit suspected of involvement in an earlier railway accident and the endorsement of people like top Naxal leader Kishenji.
The PCAPA has gone to the extent of saying that its leaders wanted by the police would not attend, leaving no one in doubt that many in attendance were not innocent tribals but Maoists and their sympathisers. Ms Banerjee has every right to protest oppression of any kind in her home state.
And, no doubt, much of her rhetoric will be coloured by the fact that she is locked in a battle for control of West Bengal with the Left Front. But, whether she solicited support from the Maoists or not, she can’t escape the fact that they have had no qualms about throwing their lot in with her. She is the leader of a democratic political party and a member of the Council of Ministers. It is inappropriate for her to be seen, whether by design or accident, hobnobbing with those who are outside the political discourse and committed to the dismantling of the state as we know it. West Bengal has been the victim of Maoist atrocities as have many states, some of them ruled by opposition parties. The government and its elected representatives cannot but take a united stand on this issue.
The Maoists can only benefit from perceived schisms within the ruling establishment on the issue of tackling insurgency. The Maoists have been given ample opportunity to come to the negotiating table and seek redressal for their grievances. They have chosen not to. Ms Banerjee is justifiably impatient to get control of the state. But this can be done only through the democratic process and not with the support of those determined to go against the state that she represents. If she does not clearly distance herself from elements beyond the pale now, the consequences could come back to haunt her. The lessons of history should not be lost on Ms Banerjee, the Quit India movement was a success because it went beyond personal politics. The Lalgarh rally was about nothing but personal politics.