By Ashis Biswas
In Bengal, a deceptive stability prevails in the post Lok Sabha poll period, with a persistent undercurrent of law and order disruptions. The ruling Trinamool Congress(TMC) and its main challenger Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) are keyed into a frenzied party rebuilding exercise, looking ahead to the high stakes 2021 Assembly elections. Their tactics present a contrast: responding to fresh challenges, the TMC has resorted to a defensive, holding operation, while the BJP, currently quiescent, is expected to shift gears soon.
The TMC has stuck to its anti BJP posturings, but its pitch has altered noticeably .Gone are the scathing personal attacks against the Prime Minister (PM). Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, known for her refusal to take phone calls from the PM, is nowadays writing letters to him . In one, she suggested that the centre convene an all party meeting to discuss its disinvestment policy.
With the opposition in disarray, critics feel the TMC is sending out mixed signals. It abstained from voting on the Article 370 abrogation debate in Parliament, indirectly helping the BJP, shrugging off caustic comments from the Congress and the Left parties. It has not reacted to the reported Congress decision to join the CPI(M)-led Left front in Bengal an anti-BJP alliance. Earlier, both Congress and the Left rejected Ms Banerjee’s call to join her party to checkmate the BJP.
Apparently, it is no longer the TMC’s priority to reposition itself as the focus of anti BJP agitations struggles in the national arena. But the party sought to play the lead role at least in Bengal in carrying out future anti BJP agitations, in the new situation. Neither the Left nor Congress could forget the unrelieved bitterness of the past eight years. There was an organised poaching of their leaders, MLAs, panchayat members, not to mention murderous attacks on their supporters and offices, the use of the police to implicate people in false cases. The TMC’s markedly softer approach towards the BJP in Parliament also deepened the trust deficit.
In Bengal, having sidelined the LF and the Congress, the TMC is wielding the big stick against the BJP, using its police force. Complicating the situation the inner party between old and new factions within the TMC continue as before. The spiral of violence, as said before, continues. So do mob attacks on the police. Unlike supporters of other parties, BJP followers often fight back, as more people join them at the grassroot level. Estimated total membership in the state is between 50 and 60 lakhs. Their numbers increase as angry dissidents from the INC and the LF are also joining the party. Ditto for TMC dissidents.
As saffron supporters get cockier, cries of ‘Jai Sri Ram’ have become more common. This is a direct fallout of the big increase in the BJP’s vote share, from 16 to 40% between 20014 and 2019. The TMC’s share in 2019 is 43% and no wonder its leaders feel challenged. As the BJP’s membership drive nets more members, the party aims to set up a booth level organisation. There are over 70,000 polling booths in the state.
A sure sign that the TMC acknowledges its need for expert assistance for the first time in its 21 year old history, was the recent commissioning of poll strategist Mr. Prashant Kishore (PK) whose agency is currently at work in Bengal.
Despite its field operations over several weeks, it is difficult to assess the impact of Mr PK’s expert advice. The ‘Cut-money recover scheme’ has been more negative than positive. People still heckle lower level TMC leaders and even Ministers, during their mandatory visits to the villages. They allege that even for giving routine services such as giving a ration card or a cycle, party leaders always extorted a commission, during the past eight years! This was a state-wide phenomenon and commissions were taken in implementing all government welfare schemes.
To assuage such unabated peoples’ anger, there is a new ‘Tell Didi’ programme launched with a helpline, now in operation. It is meant to help people to make direct complaints, spell out their grievances and seek help. It is reported that some people whose relatively lighter demands were met, reported their satisfaction.
The larger problem is , given the lack of funds , of effective monitoring apparatus and other resources, neither the ruling party nor the state government can play a limited role in resolving deep-rooted, long standing grievances. As a result, many people seeking help have already been disillusioned. Examples abound.
Taking no chances, the Chief Minister has gone back to basics. She has resumed holding regularly televised District meetings. But by now most people have become used to their format and know what to expect.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that some members of Mr Kishore’s team did not want to work as conditions in Bengal were more difficult than elsewhere. Even senior members were put off by the behaviour of some TMC leaders. Such reports may or may not be true,. But the unpredictability of some TMC leaders is common knowledge.
The TMC’s only significant victory over BJP is that the exodus out of party of members joining the saffron camp has stopped. The TMC has won back its control in five out of six municipal bodies that BJP had taken over. But this could also help the BJP. The influx of TMC defectors into its ranks was eroding discipline and making the BJP unpopular among common people angry with TMC. Meanwhile, the official interrogation of senior police officials and TMC leaders in connection with the Sarada chit fund and the Narada bribe scam continues — yet another irritant for the TMC in a time of torment! (IPA Service)