By Ashis Biswas
When it comes to dealing with the BJP-controlled central Government, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee still behaves like an eternally malcontent oppositionist, despite her long years spent in the ruling establishment in Kolkata and Delhi.
There is more to the story about the TMC as a regional political force, never mind the obsession of its MPs about representing an ‘all India party’. .There is a remarkable unity among its ranks in literally following the party line declared from its Tiljala headquarters in Kolkata. In a loosely run non-left, non cadre-based organisation like the TMC, this is seen by its two top leaders, Ms Banerjee herself and her nephew MP and General Secretary Abhishek, as a manifestation of iron discipline, the kind leaders of other parties can only dream of !
Presently the TMC is at a fairly low ebb, reeling from charges of massive corruption in nearly all arenas of governance — in major sectors like education, law and order, the panchayat system, programme implementation, the police, health — the catalogue of public complaints after ten- plus years of TMC rule is endless. The strain is telling upon TMC leaders in publicly fighting off corruption charges and the loud opposition campaign against the recent arrest of senior Ministers and state government officials involved in a spectacular series of scams.
More worryingly for Ms Banerjee and hundreds of her faithful followers, being politically on the back foot is a new learning experience for their party, a problem that on present evidence, they seem finding difficult to handle at the moment. But the reality is that TMC is down for the moment but has got the strength to fight back.
Only minutes after receiving another dreaded summons from the central Enforcement Directorate(ED), in connection with alleged instances of corruption in the cattle smuggling to Bangladesh, Mr Banerjee bounced back strongly.
Taking on none other than the Union Home Minister Mr Amit Shah, he urged upon the latter to concentrate on the deteriorating law and order situation in the national capital, Delhi. Instead of misusing the ED and similar organisations as political tools, he added in a tweet that Mr Shah should try to learn governance from the better law and order situation in Kolkata, under TMC rule. The basis for his advice: a comparatively favourable review of the general situation in Kolkata as indicated in the latest National Crime Bureau records.
Mr Banerjee clearly follows the example set by the state Chief Minister, who had only a day before thundered at a public meeting of pro-TMC students, attacking the centre ,’Why don’t you imprison me as well as our leaders ? Even if I’m in jail I will blast my way out!’
To its credit, it needs to be admitted that the TMC’s opposition to the BJP does not end with the posting of instant and usually vitriolic, tweets against the BJP establishment at the centre and its members in the state. It is equally serious about continuing its anti-BJP war at the highest policy-making levels.
One recent example: The party has not forgiven Mr Shah for having ordered additional powers for the Border Security Force by increasing its area of control from 15 to 50 kilometres within a few states, from the international borders with other countries. The centre took this step in view of the continuing laxity in securing border areas close to Bangladesh in recent years in West Bengal and reports of continuing illegal infiltration from the neighbouring country..
The TMC protested vociferously in the state and in Parliament over this. The Centre did not respond. The state recently ordered a former Forward Bloc leader of Coochbehar who had joined the TMC, to prepare a blueprint to set up a parallel administrative set up to counter/challenge the BSF’s authority.
In a recent study conducted confidentially by the state Home department (portfolio held by the Chief Minister), 64 blocks have been identified in rural Bengal border areas where, the BSF’s jurisdiction would clash with that of the state police. State officials estimate that thanks to the Centre’s decision, the BSF has won effective control over an additional 1,10,000 square kilometres of area.
Politically, this meant, according to TMC leaders, that the BJP would find it easier to operate in such areas while the TMC supporters and the Bengal administration might face new administrative issues and hitches in official functioning.
The ex Forward Bloc leader entrusted with the highly confidential exercise refused to share other sensitive details about the state Government’s objectives. However, he said to persons close to him that Kolkata-based TMC leaders, helped by senior police officials, had drawn up a fairly comprehensive ‘development programme’ for the 64 identified blocs, aiming at helping the poorest and most backward segments of the population.
State BJP leaders did not comment on the matter, being unaware of official details, However, they along with other circles were confident that the TMC was not really interested in improving the local economy or helping locals, seriously. As one BJP leader said, it seemed as though the TMC would try to scuttle any initiative that the BSF might take. Its only objective was to protest its traditional vote bank — the Muslims, especially the illegal infiltrators who kept coming, including stateless Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, these days.
Congress and Left party leaders declined comments, adding that they needed more official information. But the TMC has made no official announcements yet about the ‘new development programme’ for people, living the areas close to Bangladesh border as yet.
Also significant was the TMC’s protests organised against the rape of a woman allegedly by two BSF soldiers a couple of days ago. From top party spokesmen led by Kunal Ghosh, Minister Sashi Panja and others, the entire party protested vigorously, went on marches and held meetings, to condemn the ‘inhuman atrocities of the BSF’. Ghosh called for the immediate resignation of Mr Shah, preceded by a humble apology , on the incident.
Clearly, the TMC’s present woes had only sharpened its anti BJP rhetoric and its hard line against Delhi would continue till the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Mamata once again said that BJP would be ousted from power in 2024 polls and she would do everything to ensure that. (IPA Service)