Division among intellectuals in one year of Mamata rule

Kolkata: A year into the rule of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal has seen a sharp division among intellectuals who once backed the Trinamool Congress chief, with some feeling that she was `autocratic` and `intolerant of criticism`, but most agreeing that she needed more time.

Educationist Sunanda Sanyal, litterateur Mahasweta Devi, actor Kaushik Sen, writer Nabarun Bhattacharjee, Bengali poet Sankha Ghosh have been critical of the chief minister on various issues in the last few months.

The issues included the handling of the Park Street rape, select newspapers in state-run libraries, controversy over an anti-Mamata cartoon and the arrest of two professors.

Last month, some intellectuals had taken out a silent march in protest against a number of issues including the arrest of Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra for forwarding a cartoon which lampooned Banerjee by email.

"Certain traits in her seem autocratic to me. Neither professors should have been arrested nor newspapers banned in state libraries. She is following in the footsteps of the previous Left Front government. This is certainly not a change for the better," Sunanda Sanyal told PTI.

Sanyal had resigned as head of the state school syllabus committee and higher education committee last year upset over the cabinet`s decision for a no-detention policy upto standard eight.

Magsaysay Award winning writer Mahasweta Devi had called the Trinamool government `fascist` for the police denying permission for a rally and hunger strike by the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR). .

Singer and musician Kabir Suman, the rebel Trinamool Congress MP, said "Once I used to write songs praising her qualities. I can`t do that anymore. She was mighty as an opposition leader, but she no longer is as a ruling party leader," he said.

Explaining the reason of his fallout with `Didi`, he said, "At the slightest criticism, she senses hostility. I am a thinking man, but she wants `yes men` surrounding her."

Eminent painter Shuvaprasanna, however, said, "I am not a partyman. But I support her because of the all-round development she has brought in the state.

"In the cultural and creative sphere, people are excited because of the new initiatives she is taking for us," he said.

Magsaysay award winning author Mahashweta Devi said more time was required to assess the performance of the government.

"This government is trying to work. We should wait at least three months more to properly judge the performance of the government," the social activist said.

"They were ignored all these years. Now the government is even giving pension to old artists. For the film industry, Technicians Studio will be modernised and a film city set up in Hooghly district. Mamata has done a lot for us," veteran actor Ranjit Mullick said.

Theatre personalities Arpita Ghosh and Saonli Mitra said they were happy as proper focus was now being given to cultural affairs in Kolkata.

Last year, the new government started the Banga-Vibhushan awards, where personalities in various fields were awarded annually.

Artistes like Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Supriya Devi, Manna Dey, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay and Amala Shankar have been conferred the award.

"Of course, one year is too small a period to judge somebody. Let her complete her full-term and give her the opportunity to prove herself," Suman said.

Keeping themselves away from political divide, veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee and film-maker Mrinal Sen, refused comment.