There have been recent cases of foreign tourists being kidnapped by Maoists in Odisha. An MLA was also kidnapped. All of them were later released after suitable deal terms were worked out with the state government. While these kidnappings generated anger across the country – a similar almost-daily kidnap drama enacted by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) on the UPA Government hardly seems to do so. Is there a difference at all between the two types of hostage taking? Which of the two is worse?
When the Maoists kidnap, they hold up the working of a state government for several days. The result of the kidnapping is almost always preordained. The state will negotiate, the Maoists will demand the release of some of their buddies, the state will demur, but eventually the state will give up and settle. There is no give and take. It’s only take and take. It’s a preditable pattern.
The exact same thing happens every time Mamata makes a demand on the central government and takes it hostage. Her latest is the demand for a moratorium on interest payments on loans that the state is burdened by. She may have a point. The state may well need such help in order to be able to show some tangible progress in her state. Presumably, the interest saved would be deployed into productive asset creation which in turn would lead to an increase in state GDP, jobs etc, starting off a virtuous cycle of growth. The problem of course is that the central government would then be left holding the debt. And it’s in no position to do so. There would also be similar demands made by the other states; how could the central government decline that demand once it has conceded a simlar one to Mamata?
A state government is alright in making its demand and the central government should have the flexibility to decide on the basis of merits. If it were an opposition state, the central government would be under no pressure to oblige. But Mamata occupies a special position. She is a part of the UPA, and every time she attacks the Congress, it creates a great media story. It also gives the opposition another stick to beat the ruling party with. It hardly matters to the BJP that it too had suffered similar humiliation from Mamata (and Jayalalitha) when it was ruling at the center. Rather than work with the Congress to try and find a solution to such tactics of extortion, it is happy to just sit back and enjoy the moment and take a few more digs at the Congress.
This unique advantage that Mamata enjoys is exploited to no end by her party. Every month; sometimes more often; a new threat is issued. In all cases, she succeeds. It all started with the TMC’s opposition to the Lok Ayukta clause of the Lokpal Bill passed by the Lok Sabha. The TMC refused to support the government in the Rajya Sabha. No one – including most famously the BJP – bothered about having given a word to Anna in the “Sense of the House” resolution that the Lok Ayuktas would be created by a single act of Parliament. As expected, the Lok Ayukta clause is likely to be dropped. More recently came the opposition to the creation of the NCTC – again in tango with the opposition – forgetting that almost all parties had voted for the Act which envisioned the setting up of the NCTC in the first place. The NCTC has not yet been set up. Then came her opposition to amendments to the RPF Act – again the same have been put on the back burner.
Her opposition to liberal economic policies is well known too. She opposed FDI in multi-brand retail; continues to oppose higher FDI limits in Banking, Insurance etc. Now she’s opposed diesel price increases. In all case, she has succeeded with her demands. Just like the Maoists succeed every single time. Sometimes, one wonders if Mamata even understands economics. She should rely on her able Finance Minister for this. But for Mamata, everything is politics. She sees ghosts everywhere. She recently barred her party workers from having any personal liason (marriages) with workers of the Left parties. Very soon, she may go further and demand an amendment to the various Indian marriage acts – legally preventing marriages between families belonging to opposition parties!
The central government has been held hostage for many months now; by an ally called Mamata Banerjee. That’s what makes it so impactful a story. Central governments are used to battling the opposition, and usually have the numbers to carry on the fight. But how can a ruling alliance fight an ally without without whose support it may not have a majority? It’s pure blackmail and extortion. Just like the Maoists are used to doing.
Eventually, all terrorists get vanquished. Soon after independence, the violent secession movement of the Razakars in Hyderabad state was vanquished. More recently, the Khalistan movement was vanquished. Eventually, the Maoists will be vanquished too. If it continues down the path of extortion, so too will the TMC one day. In many cases, extortionists start off as being friends of people. Just look at Gaddafi. He was brought into power as the very popular “Brother Leader” – throwing out the tyrant king Idris. But abuse of power made him one of the world’s worst terrorists. What happened in the end? The message to Mamata should be clear.
The real truth is that there is no difference between the kidnap-and-extort techniques of Mamata and the Maoists. She needs to be contained just as much as the Maoists need to be. Today, she’s in the UPA. Tomorrow, she may be in the NDA creating problems for that alliance. A legislation that binds partners together for the full duration of the government is what we need. Just like the anti-defection law binds an MP or MLA to a political party, we need a similar anti-defection law which binds a political party to its alliance for five years. This will bring in some degree of stability to politics.