BJP on mission to deflate TMC before West Bengal polls

BJP on a mission to deflate TMC before West Bengal polls

The BJP plans to not just weaken the TMC politically but also take away the administrative advantage it enjoys as the incumbent party

Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Credit: PTI.

Unlike in sports, in politics the difference between a champion and a challenger is huge. As a challenger, Mamata Banerjee got accolades all around, after the Nandigram movement succeeded in uprooting the 34-year-long rule of the Left Front. Ten years down the line, the ‘agnikanya’ is facing the toughest challenge as the chief minister of West Bengal as this time round it is the BJP which is playing challenger to her.

Unfortunately for her, it is not her or her image that has brought her to this point. The blame lies at the doorstep of her associates and party workers. Thanks to them, allegations of siphoning of rice for the poor during these Covid months or relief materials after Cyclone Amphan have been voiced from all across the state. The BJP is using it to the hilt, raising slogans like “tolabaaj bhaipo hatao” (dislodge the extortionist nephew) a reference to Mamata’s nephew, Abhishek Banerjee.

That said, BJP leaders know too well that their erstwhile ally has a tremendous ability to fight back. So, they have chalked out an elaborate strategy aiming to create an impression that their victory in the elections to be held in April-May is a foregone conclusion. They know the Trinamool Congress (TMC) does not have any heavyweight leader except Didi to counter the campaign that it is a sinking ship. That is why they have started a high voltage campaign from now.

They also know a state government has limited resources to fight the administrative onslaught by the Centre, particularly in the last 90 days before the elections. So apart from politically weakening the TMC, the BJP, according to those in the know, also has decided to ensure that TMC does not enjoy the incumbents’ advantage over the system when going into the election. In other words, the Saffron camp wants to deflate the TMC so much before the election that it loses its ability to sting.

Impression is everything

To bring home the point in voters’ mind, the BJP leadership has decided to wean away a large number of TMC MLAs along with some Left or Congress legislators. The first big step towards the goal was the induction of Suvendu Adhikari, who led the Nandigram movement on ground, and was an important minister in Mamata’s government. Along with him, nine other MLAs joined the BJP last Saturday. Six of them were from the TMC, two from the Left and one from the Congress. More importantly, these MLAs are from five different districts of Bengal. Apart from that, one MP (Sunil Mondal) switched sides, narrowing the original gap of 22-18 between TMC and BJP. Interestingly, two other MPs from the Adhikari family (Suvendu’s father Sishir Adhikari, the district president of the party, and brother, Dibyendu) are still in the TMC.

The angry reactions of TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee and some others of the party immediately after Suvendu’s exit shows that the party has been hit hard by the young leader's move to switch sides. Now, the rumour mill has more than 30 MLAs and a couple of MPs are waiting to join the BJP. The plan is to induct them in phases over the next two months. This scheme of things has been drawn aiming to send a strong signal that the TMC is being decimated. Apart from Amit Shah and J P Nadda, a plethora of national leaders will start campaigning in Bengal to strengthen this impression, and then Narendra Modi will join the onslaught.

Article 355 in quiver

The BJP also has an effective weapon to neutralise the pro-government tilt of the Bengal administration and police force. The weapon is simply issuing threats of punitive actions by the Central government. As a precursor to it, three IPS officers in charge of BJP President J P Nadda’s security have been unilaterally called off from Bengal with orders to join the Central forces following a serious breach of security. This is to send a strong signal to the IAS and IPS communities that they would be duly penalised if they work in a partisan way.

It was being assumed that imposition of President’s rule (Article 356) a couple of months before the election is another option for the BJP, but the possibility has been discarded by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. However, ther than that, there is also Article 355, which has been seldom used. It enables the Centre to take charge of law and order of a state or some of its districts if it feels the state government has failed to protect the state (or designated areas) from ‘internal disturbance’.

It seems like this time around, the firebrand ‘Didi’ has a real uphill task ahead of her.

(Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a Kolkata-based journalist and author of several books, including the recently published detective novel Mirchi Memsaab’s House of Faith)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.