The bizarre scene of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee walking to and fro on the “Dharna” stage out of panic following the detention of CBI officials in Kolkata outlines a great political story. Mamata Banerjee, a quintessential regional satrap adhering to “realpolitik” with an aspiration of being relevant in national politics is now facing her biggest political battle and seems to be fading out too quick. Mamata Banerjee, once known for political slaughtering of the Communists at their home turf of Bengal, is now facing the similar political challenge from the BJP.
Kolkata witnessed an unprecedented series of events last night when a team of CBI officials were detained by the state police after they paid the police commissioner a visit to obtain crucial information regarding the Saradha scam. The whole saga pertains to the alleged involvement of West Bengal Chief Minister and other senior functionaries of the TMC in a massive Saradha Chit fund scam. The Saradha scam broke out into the open in 2013 when a Ponzi scheme run by the Saradha Group, a consortium of over 200 private companies, collapsed after collecting hundreds and thousands of crores from over 15 lakh investors.
Senior leaders of the Trinamool Congress have been alleged to be intimately involved in the scam ever since the CBI initiated its investigation. In December 2014, TMC minister Madan Mitra and several other party leaders were arrested by the central investigative agency in connection with the scam. The CBI probe has pointed fingers towards Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee, who has now attempted to prevent the CBI from furthering their investigations in the Saradha case.
Instead, Mamata Banerjee has chosen to play her strongest political narrative- “The Bengali Pride“, similar to what Narendra Modi during his tenure as Gujarat CM. Modi had then invoked the “Gujarati Asmita” against the onslaught of Sonia Gandhi led UPA during the 2002 Gujarat riots investigations. However, the biggest contrast between the two is that the then Gujarat CM had allowed the CBI officials to perform their duty and had agreed positively to co-operate throughout the probe. On the hand, Mamata detained the CBI officials who had gone on Supreme Court’s order to Kolkata chief’s residence. And then, as if she’s the judiciary herself, even gave a clean chit to Rajeev Kumar by referring to him as among the best police officer in the world.
Mamata Banerjee has also been careful in setting the political narrative just before the crucial Lok Sabha elections. The proposed ‘Mahagathbandhan’ is devoid of a credible face to lead them and also lacks a positive agenda to drive the political narrative to fight the BJP. The grand alliance consisting of several regional leaders like Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, BSP supremo Mayawati, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu including Mamata Banerjee has united together to take on the PM Modi led BJP, which is way ahead of the opposition camp in terms of capturing political space ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
Mamata Banerjee has cleverly used the CBI fiasco to her advantage to show that the fight isn’t just against the Narendra Modi led NDA but also to exert her claim to be the face of the ‘Mahagathbandhan‘ to take on the BJP. Mamata Banerjee with a decision to do her customary “street politics“, she has positioned herself to be the only contender to take on Prime Minister Modi not only in West Bengal but also nationally. Mamata Banerjee with her move to do a ‘dharna‘ at Kolkata and inviting other leaders to join the rally has set up a masterful trap for the opposition leaders. She had also sought to project herself to be the leader of the alliance by uniting most of the opposition leaders during a recent rally at Kolkata.
This political development can be summed up as a case of “damned if you do, doomed if you don’t” situation for the opposition camps. If the opposition leaders join hands with Mamata to sustain the narrative, it would end up playing to her strengths. If the opposition alliance tries to ignore the call to unify behind Mamata Banerjee at this moment, it will cast aspersions among its vote base on the seriousness of such a coalition to take on the mighty BJP. This is not just Mamata Banerjee challenging Prime Minister Modi, but she is also pushing the Mahagathbandhan into a tough spot to declare her as the face of the alliance.
Mamata Banerjee, after coming out of the Congress party in 1998 set up All India Trinamool Congress (AITC aka TMC) and rose to fame in the state of West Bengal at a time it was notoriously known for the Communist atrocities. With her political acumen and aided by an era of coalition politics, Didi enjoyed the taste of power under the Vajpayee government in 1999 to became the first female railway minister of the country and went on to join hands with the UPA coalition to exert a considerable amount of power in the national scene. To stay relevant in the national politics, Didi somehow managed to side with both the NDA and UPA camps whenever it suited her political convenience.
In 2011, she had made history by not only throwing out the dreaded Communists from the reigns of power in West Bengal but also ensured the violent communists would be irrelevant in the Indian politics in the coming future. However, Mamata Banerjee’s entry into the politics did not bring any substantial change, as she did not alter any political structures existed in the state rather she just replaced the communists and continued to reap benefits out of the politico-criminal nexus of the West Bengal. Mamata’s Trinamool Congress is now known as the “new Left’’. In fact, Mamata Banerjee’s political movements during Singur and Nandigram protests were akin to communist movements which eventually led to Mamata winning 2011 state elections.
The BJP, once a non-existent party in the West Bengal has now successfully captured the political space vacated by the Left Front, positioning itself to be an alternative to both the Mamata led TMC and the left-front. The upsurge in the BJP’s vote share along with better electoral performance compared to other parties has also prompted organisations like the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, to become more assertive. The religious and cultural events of Ram Navami, Durga Pooja, Saraswathi Pooja has benefited the saffron party while putting a check on the minority appeasement policies of the Trinamool Congress.
The massive rallies of the BJP have pushed the Trinamool camp into a state of concern. Mamata Banerjee has reacted to BJP’s assertion by cancelling permissions to hold rallies, barring the likes of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to visit the state and has even gone to the extent to deny permissions for the BJP to conduct its ‘Rath Yatras’. The recent questioning of Manik Majumdar, a close aide of the West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, about the sale proceeds of the paintings and serving of notice to her aide MP Derek O’Brien in pertaining to Saradha chit fund scam has further pushed Mamata into a state of panic. Amidst all the political drama, severe discontent has been brewing against Mamata from not only among the masses but also from its own cadre as several leaders including few MPs have resigned the Trinamool to join the BJP.
With the entry of the BJP in the state, the losses to Mamata are considerably high as Mamata Banerjee will not only be losing the political hegemony to the BJP which she enjoyed in the state for a long time but may also result into good political outcome for the BJP in the Lok Sabha. Further, Mamata Banerjee’s ambitions to head the opposition alliance will certainly be at stake if she is unable to get the relatively higher number of seats compared to the other regional parties.
On the other hand, BJP has little to lose in West Bengal. It has two Lok Sabha seats in the West Bengal and hopes to regain both of them in the upcoming elections. Even though the BJP has set a target of 22 seats from West Bengal for the so-called losses it may suffer in Hindi heartland states, the party will be content even the final tally reaches to 10 and in all likelihood, the BJP is poised to win at least 10 seats causing further worry to Mamata Banerjee. The political casualty that the BJP has to suffer following the recent CBI vs Mamata fiasco will be arguably far less compared to what Mamata Banerjee has to endure.
The recent upsurge of popularity of the BJP in West Bengal with the party making inroads in the rural Bengal has surely unnerved Mamata Banerjee, which could seriously affect her political ambitions of being Prime Minister of the country in the future. The anxiety of Mamata Banerjee has been manifested lately as she has often resorted to personal attacks against the BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.