By Ashis Biswas
In the aftermath of the spectacular AAP victory in Delhi polls, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) has effected a tactical shift in its dealings with the Centre. From now on, its policy of all-out opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be laced with a more conciliatory approach, especially relating to issues concerning centre-state relationship.
Apparently, the TMC has learnt a valuable lesson from the outcome of the recent Delhi election. Mr Arvind Kejriwal’s dignified, undemonstrative poll campaign contrasted sharply with the unbridled aggression of his BJP opponents. No wonder the politically savvy Delhi electorate massively rooted for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
In Bengal, middle class voters cannot help comparing the AAPs’ campaign style with that of the TMC, to the detriment of the latter. The broad conclusion is that had it been the TMC fighting the BJP instead of the AAP in Delhi, abuse would have been countered by worse abuse — and the political battle would have unfailingly degenerated into an utterly degrading slugfest!
More praise followed for the AAP. Mr Kejriwal instead of organising a yet another lavish (and futile) gathering of opposition parties financed by the common taxpayer, avoided any war of words against the BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He invited both Mr Modi and Union Home Minister Mr Amit Shah, for his oath-taking ceremony. For him, work and local development came first. The contrast between the AAP and parties like the TMC or the RJD in Bihar could not be more telling.
Such moves did not go down well with the TMC in Bengal, whose leaders were acutely disappointed not to be called to the oath-taking party. Veteran Minister Subrata Mukherjee said in the presence of Ms Mamata Banerjee at a meeting that the AAP ‘had followed the path taken by our Chief Minister in Bengal.’ Apart from pleasing Ms Banerjee (and perhaps annoying Mr. Prashant Kishor) his one-liner caused no ripples.
What cannot be ignored any more is the unforeseeable side -effect of the AAP victory — an undeclared truce in the TMC/BJP war, in Bengal. State Governor Mr. Jagdeep Dhankhar, repeatedly denounced as ‘a BJP agent’ by the Chief Minister, duly delivered the Governor’s address without any TMC heckling. He dutifully read out what had been put up before him — but only after the final draft of his address had been amended in places as the Governor insisted in making some alterations.
The tinkering reportedly occurred during several meetings Mr Dhankhar held at Rajbhavan with the Minister of Education, the Chief Secretary, the Finance Minister, Finance Department officials and others. The Chief Minister spoke to him on the phone.
Both sides took meticulous care in projecting the right optics. The TMC Chief Minister greeted the BJP-appointed Governor politely if not effusively, in the state Assembly and went through the motions of offering him a bouquet! Mr Dhankhar responded by releasing a couple of sugary tweets for a change.
The TMC responded by allowing the Governor to use an official helicopter to ease his journey to Shantiniketan, Bolpur. Observers agreed that this was ‘the ultimate TMC gift’ the Governor could have hoped for. Several times his request for a helicopter, to enable him to attend various programmes, had been nixed by Nabanna (Secretariat).
Oddly enough, by some special arrangement, political advisor to the TMC, Mr Prashant Kishor had been allowed use of the official helicopter, despite his status as an ordinary individual without official standing! But Raj Bhavan circles chose not to rock the boat in this new season of peace and goodwill between Delhi and Kolkata.
Top Secretariat sources have also confirmed that after a long break, someone from Bengal would attend the scheduled meeting of Eastern Zonal Chief Ministers at Bhubaneswar. Significantly, the script is running counter to Subrata Mukherjee’s analysis: the TMC is following the AAP’s ways, not the other way round, by cosying up to Delhi.
However, the last word remains to be said. The Bengal Chief Minister’s unpredictability once again brought about a new twist. The sad death of former TMC MP and popular film actor Mr. Tapash Paul (61) in a Mumbai hospital provoked her into launching yet another attack on the centre.
Tapash Paul had been ailing for some time suffering from a variety of health problems. Without any political record, he had been made a TMC MLA and went on to become a Lok Sabha MP, winning twice from Krishnagar. He was roped into the TMC by the Chief Minister, known for her obsession with for film artists in the distribution of party tickets for elections. He was a popular actor with a following in the post-Uttam Kumar lean period in Bengali cinema.
However, he got involved with the Sarada chit fund racket along with other TMC MPs, MLAS and Ministers. He was arrested along with others. Bad enough, but there was worse to follow. His biggest blunder occurred as he made a highly controversial speech. He had warned the CPI(M) to behave, or ‘have their womenfolk raped by hooligans,’ addressing a public meeting. For this he was universally condemned.
He spent about 11 months in the Bhubaneswar jail before being released on bail. In between he had been hospitalised couple of times as his health suffered. Not only he was studiously ignored by most party leaders, unlike other scam-tainted TMC peers, he was not put up as a candidate from Krishnagar for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
In attacking the BJP she totally rewrote recent history. She insisted that Paul had done nothing more than drawing his salary as an executive of a Sarada-sponsored company. Bandopadhay had been harassed over the purchase of air tickets for his journey abroad, she explained. Since the local press had reported in detail about the accusations both men faced prior to arrest, while the final charge sheet against them was under preparation, few took the Chief Minister’s assertion seriously.
Analysing the reasons for the TMC’s increasing outreach towards the centre—the Chief Minister has suddenly written to the Prime Minister asking him to release Rs 50,000 crore due to the state, in the 10th year of her tenure! — observers feel that she is desperate to project herself as a sincere workaholic working only for her state ! Considering her long negative stonewalling of all central overtures and proposals unlike AAP leader Mr Kejriwal during the last nine years, her mission will be watched carefully. (IPA Service)