Thursday, September 15, 2011

Didi’s Silence Rang Out Loud All Over India

While Rizvi sang on the banks of the Teesta extolling the upcoming success of the government on the water deal, Mamata Banerjee aka Didi maintained an eerie silence contrary to her usual firebrandish cries that toppled Buddadeva Bhattacharjee and his 34 year old Communist rule of Pashimbanga. That silence could be so loud as to rock the whole of the sub-continent was beyond the imagination of the two PMs who were to have their much hyped historic meeting. Meanwhile, Rizvi kept on singing his rock band until the arrival of Dr Manmohan Singh and until it was clear that there would be no water deal which was uttered like a refrain in the adviser’s BBC interviews. Rizvi has proved that he is an outstanding scholar, perhaps a great one, but scholars don’t always make great diplomats. Like words, silence too is an art and one has to make use of it in dealing with sensitive political issues. Look at Didi making use of silence. It was announced earlier she was coming with Manmohan along with other CMs of the seven sisters. We did not hear it from the horse’s mouth. She maintained her silence. An Indian MP announced the share of Teesta water being 25% and 75%. Mamata kept her silence.

The Bangladesh Foreign Minister in her euphoric style claimed the sharing would be 50: 50. Mamata still kept mum. The last song Rizvi (or was it the Foreign Secretary) sang was that the deal would be finalized within 3 months. Another diplomatic blunder.

The negotiators on the Bangladesh side hardly cared to go through the political biography of Mamata. They took her for granted – racially a Bangali, why should she go against the interest of Bangladesh? They forgot the basic fact she is a seasoned politician and more importantly an Indian. In one great sweep of silence, she has risen to the high pedestal of all India adulation comparable only to the recent Anna Hazare high comedy.

Mamata has always chosen to steal the limelight no matter which side she was on. She joined politics as a college student in the 1970s and once in a frenzy jumped up and danced on the hood of Joyprakash Narayan’s car. She had been a Union minister under several governments and became particularly famous for upholding the interest of West Bengal and women’s rights. In 1996 while she was a part of the government, she grasped the collar of Amar Singh MP of Samajwadi Party in the well of the Lok Shava. Mamata threw her shawl at Ramvilash Paswan in Parliament for ignoring West Bengal in his railway budget and in a shrill voice announced her resignation. In 1997 she quit the Congress and established her Trinomul Congress because she wanted a ‘clean’ Congress. The rest of her career has been one of shouts and cries and protests against the Communist rule in West Bengal. And Buddadeva Bhattacharjee’s fatal decision to acquire farm land for a chemical hub and a nano car project at Nandigram and Singur gave her the golden moments of her political career. Her voice rent the skies of West Bengal, indeed the whole of India, and that signaled the end of the Communist rule West Bengal renamed Paschimbanga.

So this lady clad in a white sari, with a cotton bag slung from her shoulders and wearing a pair of rubber sandals is an exceptional personality, who by now has proved by her actions that she has the strength of character to fight corruption in India. A lady who as Union minister for Railways could introduce 19 new trains (2000-2001) is not just a political demagogue.

So what explains the mysterious silence of Mamata on the water treaty? She knows the sentiment of the average Indians who feel Bangladesh has been ungrateful for the sacrifices they made in 1971 for the liberation of Bangladesh (there is no mention of our freedom fighters fighting along side the Indian army in their school textbooks – for the common Indians it was a war between India and Pakistan). More importantly, she would never sacrifice the interest of West Bengal in spite of the adulation that is showered on her by the ruling party members.

Also, the south block is divided in its attitude towards friendship with Bangladesh. Too many cultural exchanges and camaraderie may not be in the interest of India in the long run. So part of the South Block would like to see religious fanaticism to grow in Bangladesh and I would not be surprised if the RAW provided funds to politico-religious institutions through their Middle East partners.

Because when you take 50 years within your future planning, the best thing that would keep the barbed wire fencing in place is religious fanaticism. A moderate, liberal and secular Bangladesh and increased exchanges between the people of the same race may, they apprehend, lead to the collapse of the barbed wire fencing like the Berlin Wall. India’s hands are already too full of insurgencies both in the West and the East. She would hate to add another to the list. So, business profits gained through ‘friends’ is much cheaper and wiser in the long run.

Mamata has an eye on Delhi. If silence takes her there, why give out a cry? Silence they say is golden. I can visualize Didi still in her white cotton sari taking oath as the prime minister of India some day in the distant future.