Kolkata: West Bengal
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seems to have mastered the art of
making unforced errors, to use a sports terminology, to hand down
potent ammunition to her opponents.
She regularly generates controversies without fail through her
actions and utterances, the latest being the government's decision
to ban most leading dailies from state-run and state funded
Earlier, during her consistent opposition to the Left rule before
she became chief minister, Banerjee was the darling of a large
section of the media and had always spoken in favour of media
Now she has attracted severe criticism from all sections of
society following the government's ill-thought order to these
libraries to stock only specific eight vernacular newspapers for
promoting "free thinking" among readers. Banerjee has further
fuelled the controversy by asserting that she may in future even
ask people to stop buying certain newspapers "because a conspiracy
is going on against us".
However, buckling under immense pressure, the government has now
included Bengali daily Aajkaal, English daily The Times of India,
another Bengali newspaper, and two others in Alchiki script and
Nepali in the list.
But still the two most read Bengali dailies Ananda Bazar Patrika
and Bartamaan along with leading English dailies like The
Telegraph, The Statesman and Hindustan Times - severely critical
about policies and functioning of the 10-month old Trinamool
Congress government - have been kept out.
Library Affairs Minister Abdul Karim Chowdhury said the
government's purpose was to promote small newspapers and encourage
free thinking and it does not mean that "we have imposed
censorship on big newspapers or banned them".
Banerjee's detractors have said the newspapers included in the
first list are 'pro-government'. One of the Bengali newspapers is
owned by the family of a Rajya Sabha lawmaker from the Trinamool
Congress, while its associate editor was recently elected to the
upper house of parliament on the Trinamool ticket.
Also on the list are a Hindi and an Urdu newspapers whose managing
director and a senior journalist respectively have also been
elected to the Rajya Sabha as Trinamool Congress members.
The omitted newspapers in their editorials and banner headline
reports termed the order as 'fascist' and 'totalitarian'. However,
Banerjee remained unfazed, and chose to give interviews to select
channels to explain the government stand.
Terming the row as much ado over nothing, Banerjee claimed that
the controversy was created to stop the development activities of
In fact, the decision to ban leading dailies from state-funded
libraries has drawn parallels with the days of censorship under
chief minister S.S. Ray during the 1975-77 internal emergency.
Significantly, Banerjee has always been considered close to Ray
and used to visit him quite often for "good advice".
Although there were numerous instances of friction between media
and Left Front- led West Bengal government in the past three
decades, this is the first instance after the emergency that a
government has issued such an official order.
Magsaysay awardee Mahasweta Devi, who had backed Banerjee to the
hilt during her fight against the Left Front regime, condemned the
order strongly. "Dictatorship has never worked. It has neither
worked in Hitler's Germany nor did it work in Mussolini's Italy,"
In fact, two of the biggest pillars of Banerjee's success against
the Left in last year's polls were anti-incumbency against the
ruling Marxists and support of the media.
Banerjee's honeymoon with the media started fizzling out within
days of Banerjee taking over as chief minister, as newspapers and
news channels began pointing out the flaws in her governance.
The roots of the tussle between Banerjee - known to be sensitive
to criticism - and the media can be traced to the crib deaths
followed by incidents of increasing rape and violence in the state
- when the media questioned the functioning of the government.
After the Park Street Rape case became public, Banerjee termed the
incident as "cooked up" to malign the state government. Further,
she accused a specific media house of hatching the conspiracy.
Later on, police conceded that the victim was actually raped.
(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)