Intellectuals-Mamata honeymoon over?

October 21st, 2011 - 3:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Mamata Banerjee Kolkata, Oct 21 (IANS) Five months into her stint, the strains are visible between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and a section of liberal intelligentsia and social activists who had backed her to the hilt in the final years of Left Front rule in West Bengal.

The intelligentsia is edgy, though willing to give Banerjee some more time. Two issues — her failure to withdraw the joint security forces from Maoist-affected areas and the arrest of veteran trade union leader Prafulla Chakraborty — have earned their disapproval.

Leading the chorus of criticism is Magsaysay Award winning writer Mahasweta Devi.

“The forces should be withdrawn. The chief minister must realise she needs to fulfil her pre-poll promises,” the octogenarian writer said here, claiming the security men were committing atrocities on tribals.

“The situation is the same as it was during Left rule.”

The arrest of the 71-year-old Prafulla Chakraborty, who fought the Left government for years as a leader of the Kanoria Jute Mill and even campaigned for Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress before the April-May assembly polls, also drew a sharp reaction.

Shilpi Sanskritik Karmi Budhijibi Manch, a forum of artists, cultural workers and intellectuals led by Mahasweta Devi and noted theatre personality Bivas Chakraborty, has minced no words. In a stern statement, the Manch said: “Prafulla Chakraborty’s arrest has stunned us… We condemn his arrest and demand immediate withdrawal of all false cases against him.”

But Bivas Chakraborty absolved Banerjee of blame on both counts.

“It will be wrong to say that she is losing the support of intellectuals. Of course, she is yet to withdraw the joint forces but it is more because of other compulsions. She genuinely wants to withdraw them but she also needs to protect people,” he said.

On Prafulla Chakraborty’s arrest, Bivas Chakraborty said: “It’s not she (Banerjee) who has ordered the arrest. It is a result of so many things like internal factionalism between the trade unions, the factory management, etc. I strongly condemn the arrest but at the same time, it has nothing to do with Banerjee,” he said.

Anuradha Talwar, social activist and one time comrade of Banerjee in her anti-land acquisition protests in Hooghly’s Singur, said the leader was in a “tricky” situation but retains the support of civil society.

“Though it is too early to judge. But if things continue like this, the support is likely to erode. A government cannot take undemocratic decisions…the signs are not good. The government must avoid taking such decisions,” Talwar told IANS on Prafulla Chakraborty’s arrest.

“On the Maoist issue, the government is in a tricky situation. It must find other ways to solve the problem. She must not do anything in haste,” added Talwar.

The Trinamool-led Singur movement had received widespread support from human rights groups, legal bodies, social activists like Medha Patkar, Talwar and Mahasweta Devi. Other intellectuals, like poet Joy Goswami, artist Suvaprasanna, theatre and film personalities like Saonli Mitra and Aparna Sen had also pitched in.

Many rejoiced when Banerjee came to power in May this year, defeating the Left Front.

Goswami said there had been some ups and downs in terms of decision making in the first few months of Banerjee’s tenure.

“It’s such a short time. Though she has shown commitment, there have been some ups and downs in terms of decision making. I hope she fulfils the expectations we all have from her,” he said.

Educationist Sunanda Sanyal also echoed Goswami. “I am not ready to judge her performance as a chief minister until the expiry of at least 200 days since assuming power.”

Patkar too refused to comment on the issue and said: “I am not so aware of how things are in Bengal now or about Mamata Banerjee.”

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at

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