Trinamool Congress (TMC) Lok Sabha member Mahua Moitra has gained national fame with her maiden speech in Parliament, quoting from a poster that was once sold at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum gift shop (it was never an exhibit, as Moitra believes), listing 12 “early warning signs of Fascism". She used seven, linking them to the Modi government. Overnight, she became the new star left-liberals were looking for, bereft after the downfall of Kanhaiya Kumar, et al.

Then someone pointed out that she may have plagiarized her speech idea from a January 2017 article on washingtonmonthly.com, which connected the points in the poster to Donald Trump; and that she had replaced Trump with Modi and added her own words to fit the Indian context. Much acrimony followed. I, too, accused her on social media of plagiarism, but I could have been wrong. Moitra is certainly well-read and intelligent enough to have thought up the idea herself.

I shall, however, now openly plagiarize and apply her idea to the government run by her party in West Bengal. Here are her points:

One, there is a powerful nationalism that is tearing into our national fabric. In TMC’s case, it can’t be nationalism, it’ll be regionalism. Mamata Banerjee refuses to attend chief ministers’ meetings called by the Prime Minister, even NITI Aayog meetings. She keeps her state out of central welfare schemes. Her new catch-all enemy is “outsiders". All those who protest against her are apparently “outsiders". Even the doctors’ agitation after a mob attacked junior doctors at a government hospital was initially blamed on “outsiders". As Moitra perceptively noted, this is “superficial, xenophobic, narrow".

Two, there is resounding disdain for human rights permeating every level of governance. Yes, say that to the scores of opposition party workers killed in Bengal over the last eight years; to the thousands of opposition workers arrested and tortured on false charges, the most common being ganja possession; to Gorkhas of the Darjeeling hills who have faced unprecedented state repression since mid-2017.

Three, there is unimaginable subjugation and control of mass media. Bengal’s media is muzzled, through threat of reprisals and petty favours. Someone watching only Bengali TV news will know very little about what is actually going on in the state. Any question that is not docile receives a public tongue-lashing from Banerjee. And even owners of large media houses can be forced to resign their executive positions.

Four, there is an obsession with national security—the identification of enemies. No, Banerjee is not obsessed with national security at all. Check the South Asia Terrorism Portal (satp.org) for West Bengal and you’ll know. But she does identify enemies everywhere. In 2012, on a TV show, when a student asked her about appalling sexist statements made by her ministers about a shocking rape case, Banerjee called her a Maoist and walked off the stage. Today, all critics are instantly labelled “BJP" or “outsiders". If a chief minister stops her convoy, gets down from her car and starts chasing a few roadside youths who had shouted “Jai Shri Ram", one can safely call her “enemy-obsessed".

Five, the government and religion are now intertwined. Absolutely. Never have religious minority vote banks been nurtured so assiduously. Never has there been a poll campaign with so many billboards of a party leader with her head covered and bowed in the Muslim prayer posture. Monthly stipends for thousands of imams and muezzins, postponing the immersion of Durga idols because it was clashing with Muharram, allocating more money for minority institutions than higher education in the state budget… one could go on endlessly. And didn’t she publicly call Muslims TMC’s milch cow? Yes, government and religion are certainly intertwined.

Six, there is complete disdain for intellectuals and the arts. A few examples. In 2012, the TMC government banned a book by Indian Police Service officer Nazrul Islam which criticized Banerjee. In 2013, the Kolkata Film Censor Board refused to clear Kangal Malsat (“War Cry Of The Beggars"), citing excessive foul language, though everyone knew the real reason was a sequence critical of Banerjee. The film’s director called the government “fascist". Early this year, the film Bhobishyoter Bhoot (“Ghosts Of The Future") vanished from halls a day after its premiere. Bengal’s greatest living actor Soumitra Chatterjee called the government “fascist". When asked about the film, Banerjee said: “I will not answer."

Seven, there is erosion of independence in our electoral system. In last year’s state panchayat elections, TMC won 34% of the seats uncontested. Many Opposition candidates were simply not allowed to file nominations. During the Lok Sabha elections, state machinery was used to destroy Opposition publicity material. Several TV channels ran exposés on TMC thugs rigging polls. Villagers were forced to flee their homes before their voting day because it was suspected they would vote against TMC. No other state saw as much violence.

I wish Moitra had used more than just seven of the 12 “fascism" points. I would then have had more to say.

Sandipan Deb is former editor of ‘Financial Express’ and founder editor of‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines

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