Slowly yet steadily, Shah tightens noose on TMC

Slowly yet steadily, Shah tightens noose on TMC

Mamata Banerjee might win Bhabanipur, but the pressure of central agencies on Trinamool's leaders and rank and file is increasing

Home Minister Amit Shah. Credit: PTI File Photo

Bengal has been the hub of political violence for decades. From the killing of 16 Anandamargi sadhus and a sadhvi in broad daylight in Kolkata in 1982 to recent post-poll violence, there are innumerable instances of the party-in-power unleashing terror on chosen opponents. Such atrocities going unchecked is the impunity factor ruling party cadres and leaders enjoy.

But this scenario has suddenly undergone a significant change, unnerving a section of the present ruling party, the Trinamool Congress and the state police.

Since last May, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has alleged that hundreds of its supporters have been subjected to assault and forced to flee their homes after the Assembly polls outcome. A few English and Hindi TV channels traced such BJP supporters to Assam. The BJP also cried itself hoarse of its supporters being killed and raped. Following the decades-long tradition of successive governments, Mamata Banerjee too went into a denial mode.

But the situation started changing subsequently. A National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) team investigated the allegations, and it substantiated some in the report it submitted to Calcutta High Court. In turn, the High Court ordered a CBI probe for those relating to murders and rapes. The state government has recently moved the Supreme Court against the order, but the apex court has not stayed so far.

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Meanwhile, four teams of the CBI have filed more than 30 FIRs. The CBI on Thursday interrogated Sheikh Sufian, Mamata Banerjee's election agent for the Nandigram constituency, about a murder case. The net is widening, and a lot many Trinamool workers are under the lens.

This rare instance of the CBI investigating a non-riot case involving the culpability of hundreds across districts of a state gives Union Home Minister Amit Shah leverage to dent the ruling party cadres' impunity and tweak the situation in the BJP's favour.

To the Trinamool's discomfort, the CBI probe into post-poll violence has come over and above so many other cases related to Bengal, like Saradha, Narada, coal scam and smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh.

The Centre is not concerned about the victims of the fraud cases and wants to leverage those for political purposes has already been clear from the slow or no progress of Saradha and other chit fund cases. But Narendra Modi and Shah should by now have learned that the people of Bengal can see through such cheap designs. The BJP aspired for 200 plus seats in the Assembly of 294 but could bag only 75.

So, it is likely that with an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Hindutva brigade would speed up probes in all the cases with the CBI and Enforcement Directorate and will also utilise the Income Tax Department. There are numerous allegations involving almost all the influential Trinamool leaders, and the Centre may leverage these cases to knock down Trinamool's top leadership.

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The CBI has taken to summon Abhishek Banerjee repeatedly. Is the Centre planning to pin corruption charges on Mamata Banerjee's nephew? We shall soon know. The CBI has started interrogating senior ministers like Partha Chatterjee. Two other ministers of the Mamata Banerjee government — Firhad Hakim, the most prominent Muslim face, and Subrata Mukherjee, the senior-most man in the cabinet — are out on bail in the Narada case.

So, the pressure from the central agencies is two-pronged. The central agencies are investigating corruption cases against the upper echelons of the ruling party's leadership. But they are also probing cases of post-poll violence against the party's most belligerent sections of its cadres in the districts. This cadre force had helped the Left Front retain area control for decades and is now propping up the Trinamool. If some of them go to jail facing murder charges by the CBI, it will demoralise the whole lot.

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Meanwhile, the BJP has brought in the communal angle, and not so subtly, in post-poll violence cases. Suvendu Adhikari, the opposition leader in the Assembly, has said that the violence was targeted against those who adhered to Sanatan dharma (or Hindus). Notably, Suvendu Adhikari, and not state BJP unit chief Dilip Ghosh, met Shah in Delhi at regular intervals for the last few months.

That such pro-Hindu campaigns are hitting the ruling party is evident because while campaigning in her constituency, Bhabanipur, Mamata Banerjee has said she would never allow anyone to "create Pakistan" in India. 

As of the Samajwadi Party of Uttar Pradesh, Mamata Banerjee's problem is that the Trinamool is now dependent on Muslim votes to win the state. Her advantage is that unlike in UP, where Muslims comprise 20 per cent of the electorate, in Bengal, the community is 30 per cent.

(The writer is a journalist based in Kolkata)

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