By Tirthankar Mitra
Participating in dharnas or sit-in agitation supporting a demand and being dragged away from the stir site have been part and parcel of West Bengal politics for years. Yet the recurrence of this apparently routine agitation on October 2 and 3 in Delhi helped visiting Trinamool Congress’s de facto number two and a member of INDIA coalition core committee Abhishek Banerjee to catapult him to the forefront of anti-BJP agitation from the state before 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Overnight it has made Banerjee the national face of Trinamool Congress together with his aunt and party supremo, Mamata Banerjee. If the optics of Abhishek, the party’s de facto number two walking down the Krishi Bhawan corridors with loads of applications on his shoulders to defreeze the Central funds for the state turned out to be the base of a newfound popularity, his unceremonious removal together with other party leaders from the dharna site followed by the detention has done the rest.
It muffles the cries from the Congress and Left camps for Central funds for the state’s development. For Banerjee and other TMC leaders, the Delhi dharna have turned their words into action unlike the two other INDIA partners from the state, Congress and the CPI(M).
Incidentally, it was in the 1970s the leaders of the Left Front were the first to raise the issue of cutting down the flow of Central funds for the state. It had generated valuable political good will for LF government resulting in a more than three decades long stay in power
But now it has been the turn of TMC to pick up brownie points the way the recent sequence of events have turned out to be in the national Capital. And with Abhishek Banerjee being the helmsman in this venture, it has sent significant messages within his party and outside it.
It gives second thoughts to some of Banerjee’s senior TMC colleagues who had looked askance at his meteoric rise in the party after 2021 Assembly elections. Banerjee had been instrumental in allotment of nomination before the election and thereafter shortlisting of ministerial portfolios.
Being the nephew of party supremo Mamata Banerjee was considered by these disgruntled veterans to be the sole cause of the Diamond Harbour MP calling the shots. Central probe agencies interrogating him and his wife time and again on a raft of charges including cash for teaching jobs, coal and cattle smuggling, municipal job scam hardly brightened his image.
But the dharna at Krishi Bhawan at the national Capital to meet the minister concerned and thereafter being “dragged away” by men in uniform was a lifeline inadvertently thrown at Banerjee’s political career dogged by allegations of scams. He emerged from the entire affair as the man of the moment for Bengal and a resolute fighter against the centre’s injustice.
Diehard TMC supporters were not late in drawing a comparison between Banerjee and his illustrious aunt whose political career as an activist abound with brushes with law. If in the eyes of the conventional populace, she did not cover herself with glory when she tore the jacket of an IPS officer who tried to remove her from the corridors of Writers’ Buildings or blackened the face of another officer, it boosted her street fighter image in the eyes of TMC rank and file.
The Diamond Harbour MP hitting the headlines post his detention and release is likely to turn into a sympathy wave for him over vast swathes of West Bengal. For the stay-in demonstration which Banerjee led was an effort to release frozen Central funds which re pending for disbursal for long to the state government.
Making a front footed political move, Banerjee stands out vis-a-vis INDIA leaders in his home state and away from it. For years of political experience and seniority, none of these leaders have displayed any intent or purpose to take the fight into the heart of BJP-led NDA camp- Delhi.
Banerjee’s move announced on July 21 seems to have stolen the thunder of some of the INDIA heavyweights overnight. He did not do so by stealth but by showing a genuine concern for the economically weaker sections of the populace of the state who would have been benefitted from the use of Central funds.
The long drawn preparation to go to the national Capital to press for frozen Central funds, booking trains and their last minute cancellation owing to reasons for which TMC leadership cannot be hauled up and thereafter opting for buses to ferry the crowds to Delhi have all snowballed to strike a sympathetic chord. Small wonder, months before 2024 Lok Sabha elections, TMC is beginning to regain the perch which it had lost to BJP in 2019 assembly elections.
Not having won a single election till date since 2021 and weakened by desertion by some senior leaders, the state BJP unit is under threat. Even Union home minister, Amit Shah’s pep talk have failed to revive it. The state BJP leaders went to Delhi and the same day held a press meet to counter Banerjee. Tree union ministers also joined the battle of words against the Trinamool dharna. But now, the state BJP leaders are worried that Abhishek has beaten them hollow in the perception war and this will impact Lok Sabha elections.
With many people from the districts where saffron camp nominees had emerged victorious in 2019 elections accompanying Banerjee to the national Capital, the odds are high against the BJP nominees retaining their seats next year. The saffron camp support base seems to be eroding post TMC delegation’s recent Delhi visit.
Banerjee’s journey to Delhi and the subsequent chain of events have energised the ruling party in the state and added several notches to his image. For the state saffron camp, it has boiled down to a push coming to shove situation.
The Congress-Left combine comes out in poor light in the backdrop of the TMC brigade’s journey to Delhi. In fact, the Congress and the Left joining forces down the years to oppose the TMC in demonstrations and legal battles and yet not being quite vocal on denial of Central funds for the state, can convey a wrong message to the people of Bengal.
The net impact is that both the Congress and the Left are clueless on how to combat the growing acceptability of Abhishek to the Bengali electorate. The Congress state president Adhir Chowdhury ridiculed that the dharna was led by the leader who is being charged by the enforcement directorate. Similarly, the state CPI(M) is scheduled to organize a dharna before the ED office in Kolkata demanding early action against Abhishek. But both the parties are out of sync with the mood in Bengal. It is advantage TMC before the Lok Sabha elections and this trend is expected to continue. (IPA Service)