Didi vs institutions

Mamata Banerjee's adversarial politics may have begun to invite adversities upon her government

In the latest in a series of legal blowbacks, the Calcutta High Court has given Mamata Banerjee's government an ultimatum to reverse a strange experiment in mind control. Last year, the government had pruned the list of newspapers acquired by public libraries. Leading English and Bengali publications were dropped. Only those perceived to be close to the Trinamool Congress survived. One was Sakalbela, promoted by the Saradha ponzi group. Now, if the government does not provide leading newspapers in public libraries within two weeks, the court has threatened to step in and order subscriptions itself. It is not clear, of course, why Banerjee thought the exclusion of certain publications from libraries would change hearts and minds in these media-immersed times, when alternative sources of information and opinion always exist. Especially in West Bengal, where the CPM's daily Ganashakti is pasted up in neighbourhoods and bus stops like a wall magazine, this would be highly improbable.

Other legal setbacks that Banerjee's government faces are of a more serious nature. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court rejected its appeal to reschedule panchayat elections and favoured the West Bengal State Election Commission's assessments on the matter. Banerjee wanted polls to be held in one phase in winter, with state forces keeping the peace. But now, polls will be held through Ramzan and Central paramilitary forces will be on duty. This may even be interpreted as Banerjee losing face with voters in the minority community, a section of the electorate she woos with tireless energy. Embarrassingly, the court's insistence on heavy deployment of security forces, including Central forces, suggests that democracy is under threat in West Bengal. And that state forces are at the service of their political masters and incapable of guaranteeing free and fair elections.

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