Ask her no questions

If any more proof were needed that Mamata Banerjee has completely failed to honour the mandate that brought her Trinamool Congress to power in West Bengal, it came this week in the aftermath of the death of a student leader in Kolkata. Suditpa Gupta was picked up by the police while participating in an agitation demanding the holding of student union elections, and given the somewhat indeterminate circumstances of his death thereafter and the fact of his affiliation to the Students' Federation of India, a wing of the CPM, controversy was inevitable. What comes as an outrage, however, is that instead of using her high office to counsel patience till the matter is duly investigated, the chief minister has waded into the exchange of charges by questioning the gravity of the incident and, more damagingly, presuming to absolve the police of any possible wrongdoing. The incident, in her words, is "a small and petty matter" and "the post-mortem will reveal it is an accident".

By all indications, Banerjee had coasted to power in West Bengal two years ago on a wave of popular resentment against the politicisation of the law-and-order machinery in the state by the long-ruling Left Front. But the manner in which she has since politicised every interrogation of her government suggests that she remains irresponsibly and insensitively innocent of any such realisation. In Banerjee's Bengal, to ask valid questions of the administration, to seek truth and clarity from power, is to not only court accusations of a partisan agenda, it is also to be denied the right to question at all. In fact, this reflexive response to every hint of criticism or call for accountability invites the suspicion that these are the battlelines the Trinamool Congress is comfortable with a politics of charge and pitched counter-charge that reduces the space for a meaningful conversation on issues of governance. The Left Front, desperately casting around for issues to rally its rank-and-file, appears only too willing to play along.

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