Home » News » Opinion » Right Foot Forward | BJP Needs Radical Solutions if it Doesn't Want a Washout in Bengal
5-MIN READ

Right Foot Forward | BJP Needs Radical Solutions if it Doesn't Want a Washout in Bengal

By: Sandip Ghose

Last Updated: August 08, 2022, 09:33 IST

New Delhi, India

Since she took charge as Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee’s visits to Delhi have been choreographed for the media with her public relations team working overtime. In contrast, her current trip was relatively low key. (Image: @PMO India/Twitter)

Since she took charge as Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee’s visits to Delhi have been choreographed for the media with her public relations team working overtime. In contrast, her current trip was relatively low key. (Image: @PMO India/Twitter)

Whether radical solutions come in the form of ‘setting’ or a ‘surgical strike’ should become clearer in the coming days

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on August 5. The ostensible agenda was to discuss various issues pertaining to the state and, in particular, finances expected from the Centre. Though the meeting was probably scheduled earlier, it acquired significance in the backdrop of the Enforcement Directorate’s raids on her close associate and former minister — Partha Chatterjee.

Since she took charge as Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee’s visits to Delhi have been choreographed for the media with her public relations team working overtime. In contrast, her current trip was relatively low key. This itself fuelled speculation.

A recent addition to the Bengali political lexicon is the word ‘setting’. The meaning is not far from other contexts in which it is used, namely — an understanding behind the scenes to ensure a predetermined outcome based on secret quid-pro-quo. Detective fiction has always been a popular genre in Bengal. And Bengalis love conspiracy theories. Kolkata is now abuzz with rumours of a new “setting” in the works.

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) became a serious player in the state, that is in circa 2014, Bengalis have been mystified by the “blow hot and blow cold” attitude of its top leadership towards Bengal. People were intrigued at how the Central investigative agencies turned the heat on ‘chit-fund’ cases but cooled off once impugned TMC leaders jumped to the BJP ship in the run up to the 2021 Assembly elections.

But what flummoxed observers even more was the anti-climax that followed. There was a veritable meltdown in the party and the state leadership slipped into a virtual state of coma. Those who had supported the BJP in the elections were disillusioned not as much by the “ghar-wapsi” of prodigal TMC members but by the BJP central leadership abandoning the foot soldiers to fend for themselves in the post-poll blood-bath.

A sense of déjà vu was palpable amongst those who were hoping for a change. The experience was like those of the Left Front Rule when the CPI(M)-led coalition kept returning to power with a thumping majority in every election. Now they were not prepared to wait for another thirty years. But with Congress decimated in the state and the Left reduced to a rump, they could not figure out who can usher in another watershed after the BJP’s drubbing at the hustings.

Bengalis are known to be vociferous but expect others to do the heavy lifting. So, despite disappointments there was an unspoken expectation on Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to redeem their promise doing whatever it takes. Thus when central agencies stepped up the ante yet again in the last one year to pursue old cases, the public impression was the BJP was trying to keep the heat on to check Mamata Banerjee’s national ambitions. But past experience made them sceptical. They also wondered if it was more bark than bite.

Emboldened by the TMC’s clean sweep in West Bengal and sensing a vacuum in the Opposition space, she embarked on a campaign to enhance her national profile commissioning the services of election strategist Prashant Kishor. On his advice, she made an audacious move by deciding to test the national waters by contesting the Assembly elections in Goa. The TMC invested money and manpower that many thought were disproportionate to the stake on the table to ultimately come a cropper winning only 2 out of 40 seats. However, it did manage to garner 5.7 percent (12.8 percent with its allies). This gave rise to the retro-theory that the TMC had gone to Goa as a proxy for BJP to undercut votes of the Congress. Since then “setting” has become a part of popular parlance whenever the relation between the TMC and the BJP is discussed.

Goa was a setback for the Trinamool Congress. This, however, did not curb Banerjee’s pugnacity. She played a lead role in finding a consensus Opposition candidate for the presidential poll. Then fired yet another salvo by announcing Trinamool’s annual 21 July Martyr’s Day (Shahid Divas) Rally will be the platform for declaring “Jihad” against the ‘fascist’ BJP.

Like the Mississippi, the Hooghly too does not stand still. Between then and now the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) pressed the gas pedal once more. First, the investigations in the coal scam involving Abhishek Banerjee began to gather momentum. Second, the Calcutta High Court ordered the ED to expedite the inquiry into the State Service Commission (SSC) scandal in the matter of teachers’ recruitment that led to the spectacular discovery of cash mountains at the home of Partha Chatterjee’s close friend. What stunned observers was the alacrity with which Mamata Banerjee jettisoned Partha Chatterjee, the de-facto “Number 2” in the cabinet and her comrade-in-arms for over four decades.

But something may have already changed even before that. She had considerably toned down her anti-BJP rhetoric prior to the rally. Reference to ‘jihad’ was quietly dropped. It was essentially a show of numerical strength. Some believe that sensing what was in store she was preparing the ground for her meeting with Narendra Modi in Delhi on 5 August. What was apparent though is the volume of cash found at the ED raids and the collateral evidence tumbling out of the investigation were clearly beyond her imagination. That probably explains her desire to keep the current sojourn to the capital away from limelight.

But a grapevine does not need arclights. The popular theory being Partha will be offered as a sacrificial trade-off in exchange for amnesty for her nephew. This is also being linked with the changing power dynamics within the party as one sees the growing influence of people close to Abhishek. As Partha’s proximity to Mamata Banerjee is well known, his culpability will embolden the Abhishek ‘camp’ if one indeed exists within the party. So far the balance of evidence, as per public perception, was against Abhishek’s cronies. Implicating Partha will act as a counter-weight for them.

There is considerable consternation in Bengal BJP circles about the possibility of another ‘deal’. They feel any let up in the investigations will cause an irretrievable loss in momentum. A few months ago Amit Shah had unequivocally stated that the battle for West Bengal will have to be fought politically from the ground up. The cadre and state leadership should not assume that the Centre would send paratroopers to their aid. He also categorically ruled out the possibility of declaring President’s Rule by invoking Article 356 of the Constitution. Suvendu Adhikari and Sukanta Majumdar appear to have taken up the gauntlet. But it is unlikely that linear progression can bring about the disruption that West Bengal needs.

In the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi cannot afford a wash-out in Bengal. That will call for some radical solutions. Whether that comes in the form of “setting” or a “surgical strike” should become clearer in the coming days.

The author is a current affairs commentator, marketer, blogger and leadership coach, who tweets at @SandipGhose. Views expressed are personal.

Read the Latest News and Breaking News here

first published:August 08, 2022, 09:33 IST
last updated:August 08, 2022, 09:33 IST