Mamata is fighting all guns blazing to halt BJP

Mamata is fighting all guns blazing to halt BJP

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has faced many setbacks in her political career but has bounced back each time. But no challenge has been as unexpected for her than the stunning success of the BJP in the state in the Lok Sabha elections. The rattled Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo is now modifying her
strategy for the 2021 Assembly elections, which will perhaps be her toughest political battle yet since she ended the 34- year-long Left Front rule in the state in 2011.  

In a bid to counter the saffron surge in Bengal, Mamata is starting to tread uncharted territory with her effort to invoke Bengali nationalism. Her emphasis that non-Bengali people living in the state should know how to speak Bengali is also rather unheard of in Bengal politics. 

Mamata’s bid has been to label the BJP as an “outsider” and mainly a Hindi belt party which is trying to impose an alien culture on Bengal. Apart from her emphasis on the Bengali language, she has also been at pains to uphold the contributions of Bengal’s icons such as the Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore and the icon of the Bengal Renaissance Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, whose statue was vandalised in Kolkata during BJP chief Amit Shah’s roadshow ahead of the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections. Posters and hoardings of these icons have been put up at every key junction in Kolkata. 

She also seems to have found a new weapon in her cultural war against BJP. The recent remark by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen that the slogan of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ was till recently unheard of in Bengal is being repeatedly used by senior TMC leaders to take pot shots at the BJP.

The issue over the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan, however, is of her own making. Mamata’s repeated angry outbursts against the slogan during the Lok Sabha elections handed a new issue against her to BJP. The saffron party latched on to it, labelling her as someone obstructing Hindu religious chants to appease minorities (read, Muslims). 

Another crucial part of her comeback strategy is the burning issue of ‘cut money’ (bribes to access government schemes). This one also is the outcome of her comment at a meeting of TMC councillors on June 18, where she asked them to return ‘cut money’ to the people. Soon after her remarks, protests erupted
across the state by people demanding return of ‘cut money,’ many of them backed by the BJP. At the mega ‘Martyr’s Day’ rally of TMC in Central Kolkata on July 21, Mamata announced that she would bring forth the issue of the Narendra Modi government’s failure to bring back black money stashed abroad. She said that the TMC would launch a state-wide movement demanding the return of black money from BJP leaders.  

As for the issue of the BJP poaching TMC MLAs, MPs and councillors, Mamata has been able to counter it with some amount of success. Recently, 25 TMC councillors and three zilla parishad members who had joined the BJP returned to their former party.

While senior TMC leader and Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim claimed that these leaders returned because they felt suffocated in the BJP, Mamata has not revealed much about the strategy her party adopted to counter the BJP’s bid to grow by effecting defections. She has alleged, however, that the CBI and ED were pressuring some of her people to get in touch with BJP leaders to avoid arrest.  

The TMC supremo has also reached out to her arch-rival CPI(M) as well as Congress to stop further advance of the saffron party in Bengal. Recently, she urged the two parties to collaborate with the TMC against the BJP in the state Assembly at least on national issues. The call drew a blunt refusal from the two parties. Changing her stand at TMC’s ‘Martyr’s Day’ rally, Mamata urged her two rivals to continue their fight against the BJP. However, this time she also said that the TMC did not need their help to counter the BJP. 

Kishor’s appointment

The TMC has appointed poll strategist Prashant Kishor to turn the tide against the BJP in the 2021 Assembly elections. It is early days yet of his involvement with the party but already it has generated severe discontent among a section of TMC leaders. TMC sources said that it has not gone down well with these leaders that Mamata should be consulting Kishor, not them. The fact that Kishor is a vice president of the JD(U), an ally of the BJP, has not gone unnoticed. 

Seeking to capitalise on her image as a mass leader and her ability to gauge the public mood, the TMC supremo has decided to hit the streets. She has decided to lead even more public rallies than she already does and has instructed her party leaders to do the same. 

After being informed by her party leaders in May that about 70 lakh votes of state government employees and their families had gone to the BJP in the recent Lok Sabha election due to their discontent over dues in dearness allowance (DA), she has repeatedly assured this section that the issue of DA arrears will be
addressed soon.  

She has also started cell to monitor implementation of government schemes and to address public grievances. The cell a has toll-free number through which people register their complaints regarding irregularities in implementation of government schemes. 

In a bid to reach out to the urban voters of Kolkata, Mamata has started a ‘talk to the mayor’ service through which people of the city can directly register their complaints with the mayor and Urban Development Minister Hakim every Wednesday.  

Pushed to the wall by an advancing BJP, Mamata is fighting back. And she may well decide that the only sure way to win is to go back to her days of street politics, which helped her oust the once mighty Left Front.