Why I have changed my mind often about Mamata Banerjee

08 May 2014
Dilip Banerjee / The India Today Group / Getty Images
Dilip Banerjee / The India Today Group / Getty Images

When I supported Mamata Banerjee’s Poribortan campaign in 2011 along with several others, I didn’t expect any magic to happen. I thought her government will be radical, listen to the people and of course be law-abiding and all that. I never expected that a change in government would mean welfare or something positive for the underprivileged. That will take time to come. When we started supporting her, we thought she would be a positive type of person; someone whom we would not regret supporting. That being said, she hasn’t delivered on the changes she promised during her Poribortan campaign.

I have always been a very independent person. Sometimes too independent. So I have gone through some ups or downs with Mamata Banerjee. Earlier she used to call me her mentor—I didn’t expect someone in power to come and want to understand me. But we no longer share that relationship. When a civil society rally organised by the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights was stalled by the TMC government, or when I was chairperson of the Bangla Academy and my decision on the prestigious Vidyasagar awardees was vetoed by Mamata Banerjee, I only criticised her and her cabinet or judged them for certain points that I didn’t approve of.

I agree that Mamata Banerjee’s undemocratic practices must change. She has absolutely no tolerance for criticism from civil society. Some of those things must change because this is a democratic country. But each time I have taken back my criticism it is because I want to give her as much of a chance as I can so that she becomes more radical. I have repeatedly stood up again in support for her and restored my faith in her abilities as a chief minister because I think human beings are full of failures and they have to be given a chance. We have to repeatedly try try try. It will not happen magically. After all, it has only been three years since she came to power. Perhaps she will change.

This election, I want a prime minister who will give strong and pointed attention to education. Education holds the primary position in my list of priorities that the new government should focus on. In Bengal, it is true that we don’t give much value to education. I want to give more pressure and attention to education. To have education the way I see it is difficult. I know what I’m going to say will not be easy, but it has to be done: we need absolute full literacy. Without this, there is no saving West Bengal. Without full literacy a state cannot advance. For example, through my charitable organisation, in a village in Birbhum district we are focusing only on education by getting people enrolled in schools and educational centres. They are progressing well. They are happy. Literacy and education for women must be given much attention. Women can make a big difference to politics if they want to. Educated women, even married women with their own families, can do a lot when they really start thinking for the state. There is no end to the duties women can do for the government.

I don’t know if I support Mamata Banerjee this election. There is a word in Hindi, “grihasti,” which refers to a domestic type of person. Like my mother. She didn’t go to college or school. Whatever she learnt was from family. Similarly, Mamata Banerjee is a house-loving woman. I think she’s alright for running a house, not for a government—not to say that is a negligible skill.

Mahasweta Devi is an eminent social activist and writer.