Knee-jerk reactions are putting Mamata in a spot

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI file photo

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is known to posses a unique combination of political shrewdness and aggression.

These are the qualities that helped her oust the once-mighty Left Front from the state and even propped her as a major opponent against Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha elections.

By her recent actions, these qualities seem to be missing.

Three actions of the mercurial TMC supremo proved that her short temper is getting an upper hand and unwittingly benefiting the BJP.

Mamata's angry outbursts to chants of 'Jai Shri Ram' during the Lok Sabha elections; her initial threats to agitating junior doctors and consequent backtracking; and instructing local TMC leader to return “cut money” (bribe to access government schemes) have all turned to be counterproductive.

Let us first take into consideration how her reactions to chants of 'Jai Shri Ram' have suddenly made the slogan— usually prominent in north Indian politics— a burning issue in West Bengal.

Buoyed by its success in the state in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has latched on to the issue and missed no opportunity to provoke Mamata.

Several times the BJP workers have chanted 'Jai Shri Ram' when Mamata's convoy is passing by.

Instead of ignoring it, the chief minister under full media glare lashed out at them.

This handed the BJP an opportunity to label her as someone obstructing Hinduism for the sake of minority vote bank.

Mamata’s strategy of countering it by trying to invoke Bengali nationalism also backfired when she said last month at a public rally in North 24 Paraganas district that those living in Bengal have got to learn to speak Bengali.

This once again provided an opportunity to the BJP to label her as one discriminating against the Hindi speaking people.

Her threat of stern action to agitating junior doctors did significant damage to her image as an administrator.

Instead of quelling the cease work, her actions ended up prolonging it and she finally had to backtrack and soften her stand.

The consequent suffering of patients mostly from financially weaker section of the society, who are dependent on government hospitals, did not go down well with either the educated urban voters— a traditional support base of TMC— or the rural voters.

The TMC supremo’s inability to reign in a section of her party leaders and workers allegedly involved in corrupt practices has become a cause of concern for her.

Instead of boosting her image as an anti-corruption crusader who does not even spare her own party men, Mamata’s instruction to local party leaders to return “cut money” backfired and provided fresh ammo to the BJP.

Not only have there been incidents of public outrage against local TMC leaders but a large number of such protests are being fueled by the BJP.

The situation has become such that a number of local TMC leaders are openly blaming Mamata for putting them in the line of fire.

"The Chief Minister could have started her drive to weed out corruption from the party internally. By making such comments in public she has put herself and us in a spot," said a senior TMC leader.

However, it would be a big mistake for the BJP to rule her out at this juncture.

Despite all their success in Bengal, the saffron party is yet to have a leader in the state who can take on Mamata’s "street-fighter-like politics".

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