TMC's ‘Maa, Mati, Manush’...and money

The arrest of Partha and Arpita and the recovery of cash and other valuables of course gave the BJP, CPI (M) and the Congress fresh ammunition to attack the TMC
Last Updated 30 July 2022, 08:34 IST

The Trinamool Congress supporters from across West Bengal defied rain to converge into a huge rally in Kolkata on July 21, as the party observed ‘Martyrs’ Day’ – its annual ritual to pay tribute to 13 people, who had been killed in police firing on this day in 1993. “This rain will wash away the BJP in 2024,” The party supremo and chief minister Mamata Banerjee said, accusing the union government of using the Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Investigation and other central agencies for advancing the interests of the saffron party. She also did not forget to invoke “Maa, Mati, Manush (Mother, Land, People)” – the mantra of the TMC since it led the 2006-2009 agitations against acquisition of land for industrial units in Nandigram and Singur.

The ED did knock on the doors of the TMC stalwart and the state’s commerce minister, Partha Chatterjee, a day later. The agency joined the CBI in probing the scam in recruitment of teachers in government schools. It seized nearly Rs 50 crore in cash, in addition to other valuables, from properties linked to Partha and his aide, Arpita Mukherjee, over the past few days. They were arrested too.

Mamata, however, did not turn up at the ED office as she had done in the past when central agencies had gone after her favourite officials or arrested her ministers. Neither did she harp on the “BJP’s abuse of ED, CBI” narrative. She rather removed Partha from the state cabinet. “We have zero tolerance for corruption,” her nephew and the TMC’s national general secretary, Abhishek Banerjee, said, announcing suspension of the heavyweight leader from the party.

TMC's ‘Maa, Mati, Manush’...and money

The TMC supremo’s down-to-earth persona has been a political capital for the party. That is why its damage-control measures focussed on making it sure that the wads of currency notes recovered during the ED’s raids in locations linked to Partha and Arpita do not sully her image.

What the TMC could this time around realize fast was that the public perception was turning against it after the ED released on social media the pictures of the heaps of currency notes. “The honourable CM is answerable to the public. She cannot escape accountability,” tweeted cultural activist Piya Chakraborty, who had played a key role in bringing together a number of celebrities of West Bengal to launch the “No Vote to BJP” campaign ahead of the March-April, 2021 state Assembly elections. “More than 40 crore rupees have reportedly been recovered in cash by just raiding two flats. What is the source of this huge booty? The minister reportedly associated with this booty is still in the cabinet. @MamataOfficial owes an immediate answer to the people of West Bengal,” Dipankar, the general secretary of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist), posted on Twitter. He had publicly disagreed with the leaders of other communist parties ahead of the Assembly elections last year and argued that the leftists should not put the TMC and the BJP in the same bracket and must do whatever it would take to stop the saffron party from coming to power in West Bengal.

The arrest of Partha and Arpita and the recovery of cash and other valuables of course gave the BJP as well as the TMC’s other rivals – the CPI(M) and the Congress – fresh ammunition to attack the TMC.

Partha is just one of the many TMC leaders being probed by the central agencies, mostly in connection with allegations of corruption. Abhishek, himself, and his wife Rujira were questioned by the ED and the CBI in connection with a coal scam earlier this year. The party had in most of the earlier cases defended itself, alleging that the BJP had been using the central agencies to intimidate it.

Mamata last year spectacularly foiled the BJP’s bid to dislodge her from power. She led her party to win in 213 of the 292 Assembly constituencies that went to polls, despite the BJP’s no-holds-barred campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and union Home Minister Amit Shah. But the series of violent political clashes after the Assembly polls in May-June, 2021, alleged killing of student leader Anis Khan in February 2022, charges of corruption against its leaders have dented the TMC’s image over the past 14 months. A 19-year-old student Tuhina Khatun committed suicide in Burdwan in March 2022, allegedly after her family, which was supporting a TMC leader, was intimidated by the rival faction of the party. Eight people, including two children, were charred to death at Bogtui in Birbhum in the same month after conflict among rival factions of the TMC led to the killing of one of its local leaders.

The infighting also reached the top of TMC hierarchy, as manifested in the reactions to Abhishek’s bid to introduce One-Person-One-Post formula within the party, row over its list of candidates for municipal elections and its ties with the I-PAC of political strategist Prashant Kishor.

The party’s predicaments has not yet been hit electorally in West Bengal, where it has swept the civic polls as well as the Assembly and parliamentary bypolls earlier this year.

The TMC’s plan to expand beyond West Bengal did not take off though. It did open up its doors for some leaders of the Congress in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Goa and was hence accused of weakening the grand old party at the behest of the BJP. But it could not put up a good show not only in Assembly polls in Goa, but also in municipal elections in Tripura, a state with socio-political milieu almost similar to that in its own bastion, West Bengal. The party, however, turned into the principal Opposition party in Meghalaya in November 2021, when 12 of the 17 Congress MLAs joined it.

It often distanced itself from the Congress and other Opposition parties even while taking on the BJP-led government in parliament. Mamata perceives the Congress, which she quit 24 years back to launch the TMC, as a hurdle on her and her party’s way to the lead role in a united Opposition. The Congress on the other hand often questioned the TMC’s credibility as a party opposed to the ruling BJP.

Mamata initiated the move within the Opposition parties to pick a common candidate for presidential polls. But days after they picked Yashwant Sinha, who was the vice-president of the TMC itself, she said that her party would have tried to build a consensus in support of the ruling coalition’s candidate Droupadi Murmu had the BJP consulted it in advance.

The TMC recently decided to abstain from voting in vice-presidential elections alleging that it was not consulted when Margaret Alva was picked as the candidate of the Opposition. The party announced its decision just days after Mamata had a courtesy meeting with Assam Chief Minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sharma and West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who had several rounds of clashes with her government in the last few years and was picked up as the BJP-led coalition’s candidate for the office of the Vice-President.

Mamata is set to visit New Delhi next week and what is expected to be more interesting than her meetings with Opposition leaders in the national capital is her interactions with Modi – be it during a yet-to-be-scheduled one-on-one parley at the 7 Lok Kalyan Marg or during the NITI Ayog conclave on August 7.

(Published 29 July 2022, 19:07 IST)

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