The three Spartan chief ministers in India right now are Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, N Rangaswamy in Puducherry and Manik Sarkar in Tripura. Rangaswamy and Sarkar seem to be content with their stations. Banerjee is interested in more – she seeks to be prime minister.
Most opinion polls project Banerjee’s party, the Trinamool Congress, as the third largest in the next Lok Sabha. Banerjee’s men use this to say that her credentials are strong should there be a possibility of a non-BJP, non-Congress government in New Delhi.
It therefore makes sense to know Banerjee. The narrative her party promotes suggests that Banerjee is a sort of female Robin Hood with shades of Mother Teresa. The Trinamool Congress markets Banerjee as god’s gift to West Bengal.
This hides the brutality of life with the Trinamool Congress. West Bengal has had horrific crimes unleashed on the vulnerable, especially economically stunted women. The Trinamool fables on Banerjee also hide the truth of her aides, one of whom is Rajya Sabha member KD Singh who was detained with unaccounted money at the Delhi airport in the past.
New insights are now available into Banerjee’s character and work ethic. Former coal secretary PC Parakh’s book, Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and Other Truths, has a chapter on Banerjee with information that can shock. It is in our interest to pay attention.
Parakh details his experience with Banerjee in the opening chapter of the second part of his book. The chapter is titled: My first minister: Ms. Mamata Banerjee –The other side of simplicity. Here is what Parakh says.
“At the end of February 2004, I received orders for posting as Secretary in the Ministry of Coal. This ministry was always considered one of the lucrative ones. I believe there were many contenders who lobbied for it. I neither approached anyone, nor did I know the minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee, who might have had say in choosing the secretary for her ministry.
“I joined the ministry in the second week of March 2004. Ms. Mamata Banerjee was the Cabinet Minister and Mr. Prahlad Singh of BJP was the Minister of State (MoS). Ms. Banerjee was in Kolkata when I joined. I thought I could see her as soon as she returned to Delhi.
“However, she did not come to Delhi for more than a week. I received feelers that she was unhappy that the new secretary had not called on her after taking charge. I, therefore, decided to go to Kolkata to meet her. My meeting was fixed at her residence.
“I had heard about the Spartan lifestyle of Ms. Banerjee, but what I saw was simply unbelievable. It was a small house in a lower middle-class locality of Kolkata. We were ushered into a small room which had been partitioned with a curtain in the middle. It had a wooden cot with a cotton mattress and two plastic chairs.
“Ms. Banerjee had commendable simplicity and there is no doubt about her personal integrity. But she was not immune to misuse of her office for her party’s interests. Soon after Ms. Banerjee took charge of the ministry, she forced the acting CMD Mr. Shashi Kumar to appoint 50-odd TMC workers as trainees.
“They were to be posted as securitymen at the coal mines of the North Eastern Coal Fields Limited. No procedure was followed in their selection: no advertisement, no tests and no interviews. A list of names was handed over to Mr. Shashi Kumar and he was told to issue appointment orders.
“Mr. Kumar told me none of these persons attended training. They used to simply mark their attendance and attend to Ms. Banerjee’s party work. There was already huge surplus and unproductive manpower in Coal India which was being reduced through a Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS).
“The government had banned new appointments in Coal India. But the ban was relaxed to facilitate recruitment of TMC workers. Ms. Banerjee also laid the foundation stone in Kolkata for a super-specialty hospital to be set up by Coal India. The board had not approved such a proposal.
“She pressurised the CMD to pay ₹25 lakh to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation for eviction of squatters from corporation land. She proposed to use this money for setting up the hospital. There was little justification for Coal India to set up a super-specialty hospital in Kolkata.
“First, Coal India is a mining company and it is not its business to run super-specialty hospitals. Second, Kolkata has less than 0.25% of the Coal India workforce. If the hospital was meant to be a welfare measure for CIL workers, it should have been set up in Jharkhand where almost 50% of Coal India‘s employees work.
“This did not matter to Ms. Banerjee. She also pressurised the Coal India chair to make large donations to several NGOs of her choice.
“Before Ms. Banerjee took over as minister, eminent persons were appointed as Independent Directors on the board of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC), a company under the Ministry of Coal. Ms. Banerjee directed the then secretary to appoint nondescript TMC workers as directors on the NLC board.
“We pointed out to her that the directors were appointed for a fixed tenure and they had completed only a few months in office. But she ordered that their appointment be terminated to make place for her nominees.
“After Ms. Banerjee ceased to be minister, the services of the TMC workers appointed to CIL were terminated after training. The proposal to set up the super-specialty hospital was dropped. The proposal to appoint her nominees on the NLC board automatically lapsed.”
Parakh also says Banerjee never assigned important work to her minister of state Prahlad Singh [of the BJP]. No files were apparently sent to Singh.
We can cull the following ten traits of Banerjee from what Parakh says.
1. She has a sense of entitlement. Example: She expected the top bureaucrat in her ministry to travel from Delhi to Kolkata to call on her.
2. She abuses position. Example: She forced the Coal India head to appoint 50 Trinamool members.
3. She violates procedures. Example: She passed on a list of Trinamool men to be appointed without advertisements, tests or interviews.
4. She undermines institutions. Example: Her men never attended training; they merely marked attendance and collected salary. This when Coal India was already overstaffed.
5. With her it is Banerjee first, Trinamool next and India last. Example: She forced the Coal India head to pay huge money to the Kolkata civic body when there was no reason to.
6. She hurts the needy. Example: Coal workers in Jharkhand needed a hospital but Banerjee shifted the hospital work to Kolkata where there are barely any coal workers.
7. She extorts. Example: Banerjee coerced the Coal India head to donate big to NGOs of her choice.
8. She is subversive. Example: She terminated the tenure of eminent directors in the Neyveli Lignite Corporation and appointed unknown Trinamool workers instead.
9. She is whimsical. Example: She assigned no important work to her deputy Prahlad Singh.
10. She is dictatorial. Example: She relaxed an official ban on Coal India recruitments to hire Trinamool workers.
We wouldn’t know any of this if it were not for Parakh’s book. Banerjee has worked with the NDA and the UPA in the past. She can shift position at will. This is the person who wishes to head the union government.
Only two people have deflated the ego of Banerjee – Anna Hazare who refused to attend a Trinamool rally in Delhi, and Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath who ordered her to transfer top policemen when she refused to. Not everybody can do that.
We cannot separate a person’s character from their work. Who they are will inevitably show in the workplace. Banerjee has an army of enablers. She is not ready to be prime minister.
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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.