Kolkata: Satisfied that coordinated action on the political component of the ‘Bangal Yojana’ gave high-yielding results in the recent Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership will now concentrate on the ‘economic and administrative’ component of the ‘yojana’. The intention is to corner the West Bengal government, and indeed chief minister Mamata Banerjee, on hard economic and administrative issues, say BJP watchers in somewhat guarded conversations.
Action on the political component of the ’yojana’ will, of course, continue with renewed vigour in Kolkata and the districts to only consolidate the gains in terms of BJP’s win in 18 Lok Sabha seats, against just two in the 16th Lok Sabha, and also make further inroads, particularly into the Southern Bengal districts.
In this, the BJP is being considerably helped by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadres. Although it took BJP many years to open its account in parliamentary democracy, it should not be forgotten that the RSS has been present in West Bengal since the early 1960s and now has a strong presence in the state. The RSS’s Vijaya Dashami gathering deserves mention, as it gives an idea about its spread and penetration. Already, the frequency of visits of key RSS and BJP 'karyakartas' (activists) has increased and it goes without saying that West Bengal is now several notches up in the priority list of BJP and its ideological mentor. All-out efforts by the two organisations to spread Hindutva are a matter of time. Malda and Murshidabad, known for concentration of Muslim population, will be accorded priority by BJP-RSS. With BJP president Amit Shah as the new Union Home Minister, this is the minimum that the party’s supporters and symphathisers expect.
Recent circumstances have vested this component of the ’yojana’ with some urgency, although constitutionally the next Assembly elections are almost two years away -- in 2021. But, in the reckoning of the BJP leadership, “something may happen earlier”, a clear hint at possible ‘aya ram, gaya ram’ (defections) game in the world of politics.
But, an equally important factor that is acting as a provocation for the BJP leadership and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is CM Mamata Banerjee’s refusal to implement some key central flagship schemes, devised and launched in the last two years of Modi’s first term as Prime Minister. Instead, the chief minister has launched her own versions of those schemes. This has angered the BJP because these schemes, if implemented as centrally-sponsored ones, would have given the party definite political mileage and helped the party politically.
The schemes are Ayushman Bharat, PM-Kisan, PM Fasal Bima Yojana and pension for unorganised sector workers, to mention only a few. In each case, Banerjee has launched her version. Having refused to participate in the central schemes, the state government will fail to qualify for a share in central funds under the devised formula. What does this imply? For implementing its own version of the schemes, the state government will have to foot the entire bill, adding a huge burden on the state exchequer.
People in general, and the identified beneficiaries of Mamata Banerjee’s version of Modi's flagship schemes, may not suffer in the short term. But the adverse effects will surface in the long term, because in addition to the substitute schemes, the West Bengal CM has launched several schemes (Kanyashri, Yubashri, for example), paying allowances to Imams and paying fixed sums to 'para' (neighbourhood) clubs. There are other instances, too. A recent addition was the provision for grants to Durga Puja committees. Whether all these are sustainable is the question that needs an answer. Suffice it to say that at the moment, this seems difficult as political uncertainty surfaces and the law and order situation poses challenges for the administration.
Modi campaigned extensively in West Bengal, given the BJP’s high stake in the state. He repeatedly charged ‘Mamata didi’ of acting as a ‘speed breaker’ in West Bengal’s development. That was his way of castigating her for not participating in his government’s flagship schemes.
In fact, a section of the state bureaucracy finds Banerjee’s refusal to join the Centre’s welfare schemes as “illogical, irrational, citing the resultant strain on the exchequer. The Centre is aware of this discontent in the bureaucracy.
The chief minister’s refusal to respond to Modi’s phone call for a meeting on the adverse impact of cyclone ‘Fani” has also not been taken well with the state BJP leaders demanding that Banerjee be “taught a lesson”.
In the coming weeks, the Centre will be tough with the West Bengal government when it comes to following prescribed rules and procedures. It will ensure that the state government furnishes utilisation certificates on time in respect of Central funds. In case of delay, the Centre may simply not release the subsequent tranches. Under Banerjee’s instructions, state officials had to withhold information on several subjects from time to time. The new Modi government will not tolerate this. Also, Banerjee has often refused to release officers for central deputation. The Centre henceforth will not accept her refusal.
Finally, the BJP will use the platform of Lok Sabha to corner Trinamool Congress. Only two MPs out of the 18 seats that BJP bagged in West Bengal, have been made ministers. The possibility of a few more state BJP MPs getting ministerial berths is high. These ministers will be asked to keep a close watch on the implementation of schemes in West Bengal. Finally, the BJP MPs will be instructed to regularly raise issues of relevance to West Bengal in Parliament and cite examples of administrative failure.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Kolkata, who used to work earlier with Hindu Business Line and Economic Times.