The bail granted by the Supreme Court to West Bengal BJP Yuva Morcha leader Priyanka Sharma is a step in the right direction. Sharma was arrested on May 10 by the West Bengal Police for allegedly sharing on Facebook a photograph in which Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s face was morphed on actor Priyanka Chopra’s picture from the Met Gala event in New York. The arrest was roundly criticised by the BJP and other social media users, and rightly so.
This is not the first time that Mamata and her government have displayed such high-handedness. In 2012, a Jadavpur University professor was arrested for forwarding a cartoon of the CM. The same year, the then Press Council of India Chairman Markandey Katju wrote a letter to her saying she had “become increasingly intolerant and whimsical.”
The less said about her party’s attitude towards its political opponents—whether from the BJP, Left Front or Congress—the better. Threats, intimidation and violence against all political opponents have become the norm in West Bengal, with henchmen of the Trinamool Congress having little regard for the law of the land.
While on the one hand, Mamata positions herself as a champion of free speech and tolerance, calling the BJP a fascist organisation, on the other hand, she has always cracked down on satire and dissent against her.
Another worrying aspect about Mamata is that she appears to be taking her political battle with the BJP to a near breakdown of her government’s relations with the Centre. In the run-up to the polls, her government behaved most churlishly by denying permission to BJP leaders to hold rallies or landing rights to their helicopters.
Most recently, she refused to take phone calls from Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he tried to reach her to discuss the impact of Cyclone Fani.
Such behaviour can severely damage the federal structure and needs to be checked immediately. In a healthy democracy, political rivalries and the freedom to criticise one another should not only be welcomed but should be the norm. They must not spill over to governance once in power.