Ever since Mr Prashant Kishore took over as the political adviser to the ruling Trinamool Congress(TMC) in Bengal, the decision making process within it has slowed down. The reason : there is more of a consensual approach at the top. Earlier, party supremo Ms Mamata Banerjee exercised her privilege from olympian heights, without concession to popular sensibilities or sentiments. These days, say TMC insiders, a different system operates.
Important decisions are announced only after consultations between the state Chief Minister herself and Mr.PK. Mr Abhishek Banerjee MP, the CM’s nephew and political heir apparent also attends at times. Mr PK is often present at selected party meetings as a special invitee . To date, no other TMC leader no matter what their seniority, enjoys the privilege of talking to Mr PK on major issues on their own. Mr. PK also visits the districts, usually with Mr. Banerjee. His appointed staff visit the districts too, to report on the present situation and provide him inputs.
The outcome so far has been mixed. In the old days, Ms Banerjee , driven by her instinct, announced snap decisions without much concern for the consequences on the state administration or her own party. Her personal dominance was total, bordering on the dictatorial.
To give only a couple of examples,: within days of her taking over as Bengal’s Chief Minister, she had marched into Bhowanipore thana one evening to free a party activist from the lock-up. He had been arrested earlier for rowdy behavior while leading a procession. On another occasion, she suspended the leading specialist doctor of a sarkari hospital on the spot . His polite request to her to discuss hospital matters within his chamber and not in front of a motley crowd that had gathered during her unscheduled visit, somehow she found offensive.
The suspended doctor languished without a posting for months on end. He won partial reprieve eventually as the Calcutta High Court ruled in his favour on the suspension issue .
There was some general criticism , often accepted even by her loyalists (but never in public!) about these and some of her other decisions. The controversial transfer of police DC Ms D. Sen, whose painstaking investigation helped solve the brutal rape of an Anglo-Indian lady on Park Street a few years ago, was one instance. What really was a brilliant achievement for the Kolkata police had upset some people at the top.
Ditto her ordering the spot arrest as a Maoist , of a simple farmer who had the temerity to complain to her of rising prices during a public meeting. These incidents left a bad taste in the mouth for most people and the ruling party copped much flak, despite the best efforts of the loyal Bengal media to rally support for the ruling party !
The question arises, whether the new consensual approach , which is enriched by the specially valuable inputs provided by the IPAC, the expert organisation that Mr. PK heads is paying better dividends for the TMC or for the people generally. As of now, it is hard to give a conclusive answer, one way or another.
On the credit side, the possibility of disastrous snap decisions as seen in the past, has been reduced. There can be no question that this has saved the TMC Government from many blushes , controversies and other embarrassments .
And yet, there is a negative underside to the present situation that somehow even the consensual approach in decision making within the TMC has not been able to avoid. It has been seen that even while making major announcements involving official policy matters, the Chief Minister still makes grievous mistakes that are hard to live down.
Examples abound. During the official post covid pandemic ops, the Bengal Chief Minister announced a special medical committee to check how many people were dying of the Corona virus attacks or for other ailments. Within days, the committee went non functional. A week later she publicly denied having set up any such committee herself ! Worse, it reminded people of what had happened earlier when the first reports of the Sarada chit fund scam were available. She had claimed to have learnt of the chit fund operations only days before, when there was recorded evidence of her having attended meetings with Chit fund officials much earlier !
Recently again, she announced that the government would supply each citizen five kilos of rice as part of his/her ration. Within days , the supply dropped to one kilo only—without benefit of any official explanation or announcement ! The sudden unexpected cut in supplies did not exactly endear the TMC government to the people passing through hard times.
Therefore on present evidence, it cannot be said that the consensual approach has proved more effective for the state administration as a whole.
On the other side of the coin, the question of IPAC’s valued advice on political matters also needs examination. After all, the company was appointed over a year ago by the TMC not to improve administrative functioning, but to ensure the ruling party’s electoral victory in the 2021 elections.
Here, it can be safely asserted that the IPAC’s job is if anything more difficult. Unlike Bengal’s unusually docile bunch of bureaucrats, political people whether in the TMC or in other parties generally tend to show greater individuality and decisiveness, even if they go wrong at times.
The stark and somewhat scary truth the IPAC must face up to is that the TMC as of today, is a party riven with scores of simmering mutinies that are increasingly spiralling out of anyone’s control .
Very briefly, consider the present situation within the TMC only a few months before the polls scheduled for 2021.
Mr Suvendu Adhikaro, influential Minister with a traditional base of strong support in Midnapore east and west, is all set to launch a new party, signaling a rebellion against Mr Banerjee. Recent fact -finding visits made by IPAC representatives in the districts proved difficult as not many people, obviously the dissidents, did not co-operate with them.
Suvendu’s father Sisir, a veteran leader and former non left Minister in his own rights, has so far held his son in check, but that has not made him more co-operative towards the TMC leadership.
It is common knowledge that the Adhikaris are the only people who enjoy a strong base of support on their regardless of Mamata Banerjee’s image or clout. No other TMC leader, not a single person among them, can make such a claim. Their political careers have deeply influenced the overall politics of the undivided Midnapore district as a whole—until its division, it was the biggest district in India ! No wonder the present spurt of mysterious posters put up by people not only in Midnapore, but in Burdwan, Birbhum, Alipurduar and elsewhere, strongly supporting their “Dada”(mentor) causes deep concern within the TMC. Prior to the elections, there is nothing to prevent the new outfit from entering into an alliance with a resurgent BJP in Bengal, outlining a nightmarish scenario for the TMC top brass.
And it is not just the Adhikaris. Also in Midnapore at Nandakumar, the former Bloc President Sukumar De has threatened to quit politics having been sidelined in the formation of new party committees at different levels. Senior people, he alleged were kept out of the loop,presumably on the basis of local inputs provided by IPAC staff.
Similarly, both Mr Mihir Goswami , MLA in Coochbehar district and Mr. Sheelbhadra Dutta MLA Barrackpore, have announced plans to quit the TMC. Mr.Goswami declined to meet North Bengal Minister Rabindranath Ghosh for talks . Mr Dutta too, said he would not contest on a TMC ticket any more. Since both have challenged the decision to appoint the IPAC as an agency that will have the last word in deciding local matters, the TMC leadership will find it hard to strike a balance between accepting IPAC’s recommendations,( which have stirred up a hornet’s nest in several districts already) and alienating large sections of its old leaders/activists.
In Howrah, two Ministers Arup Roy and Rajiv Banerjee have fallen out publicly. In Hooghly, MLA Probir Ghoshal strongly criticised the local leadership on some issues . The party leadership intervened to strike a balance. In Nadia, most senior district leaders are not co-operating with Ms Mohua Moitra MP, for what they allege to be her no= nonsense corporate and direct ways of communication .
Truly a Pandora’s box, by any reckoning—- Mr PK has certainly his work cut out for him.
(Ashis Biswas in News Editor at Easterlink and a veteran commentator)