WB: Opposition Steps up Activity as TMC Slips on Governance
Kolkata: In the relatively short period of 13 and a half months into the third term, embarrassments have multiplied for the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
The spate of embarrassments started with widespread violence post-2021 Assembly elections, which saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) way behind its aim of forming its maiden ministry in Bengal and the Left and Congress failing to register with the electorate.
But, the political situation is now offering substantive opportunities to the Opposition to rectify their deficiencies, regroup and reactivate themselves.
Judging by the fact that panchayat elections are due in 2023 and there is a possibility of the elections being advanced, this is not an insignificant change for the Opposition.
The embarrassments for TMC and the CM have been stemming from repeated news about corruption involving even ministers and a noticeable spurt in court-directed investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation following outright rejection by courts of the special investigation teams for probes ordered by Nabanna at the behest of the chief minister.
It is more embarrassing because the CM herself holds charge of the home portfolio. Amid all this, there is widespread public dissatisfaction over the police, whose role in the unnatural death of a youth activist Anis Khan a few months back left people shocked.
During her visit on March 24 to Bogtui village of Rampurhat subdivision of Birbhum district, which was the scene of a heinous crime in which eight persons – all Muslims – were charred to death on the night of March 21 in what was a retaliatory action by her party members, Banerjee had publicly chided the police for intelligence failure.
Less than three months later, on June 9, Muslims organised a massive hours-long blockade without any prior announcement at four to five spots of Howrah district to vent their anger at the derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed by two BJP spokespersons.
The blockade had started at 10:30 am and was lifted at 9:30 pm after a lot of persuasion.
It bears mention that Nabanna, where the state secretariat had moved on October 5, 2013, from the historic Writers Building, is in the Howrah district. While briefing the media on June 9 at Nabanna, Banerjee avoided any reference to the police's role and intelligence gathering. Instead, she chose to appeal, with folded hands, to the protestors to lift the blockade and argued that their action would alienate them from the suffering people.
It would appear that her conciliatory approach had a limited impact as Howrah remained restive the next day. Aggrieved Muslims also organised protests in parts of Nadia and Murshidabad districts. Internet services in large parts of Howrah were suspended.
But tough decisions followed only on the third day, on June 11, when Section 144 of CrPC was invoked, and Howrah Police Commissioner and Superintendent of Police of Howrah (Rural) were shifted.
Banerjee also started blaming "some political parties," targeting BJP, whose state president Sukanta Majumdar was arrested for defying section 144 to visit violence-hit areas with party workers.
A widespread view in informed quarters is that with Banerjee initially opting for appeals, bureaucrats had to be content with a hands-off approach.
Two related points deserve mention. Disposing of a petition seeking deployment of the Army in troubled areas, a division bench of Calcutta High Court headed by Chief Justice Prakash Srivastava asked the state government on June 13 to take the help of the Army or Central forces if it felt necessary.
On the same day, the additional director-general of police (law and order), Jawed Shamim, claimed the situation had been dealt with properly and that it was noteworthy that not a single life had been lost.
Shamim also suggested that they had "intelligence inputs, but many a time, many things happen all of a sudden."
Ex-chief secretary Ardhendu Sen, when asked by NewsClick to give his assessment, said it appeared they were not equipped with intelligence inputs and, perhaps, their reaction was slow.
As for involving the Army, Sen felt the Army succeeded when the area was spread-out, but in a densely populated area, such as Howrah, they will have to contend with limitations.
State secretary of CPI (M) Mohammed Salim said, "Banerjee has been projecting herself as the saviour of the Muslims, but time and again, she has failed to factor in the people's sensibilities. Law and order is the worst casualty, and her handling of the home department leaves much to be desired."
"Even on Monday, tension prevailed at Salap in the Howrah district. There is a sense of insecurity among the people, and the Anis Khan episode has caused anguish to the Muslims. Beginning today, the Left Front, democratic and secular forces will be holding peace rallies in the districts, and the programme will culminate in a big mobilisation in Kolkata on June 21," Salim told NewsClick.
State BJP, which since the last year's Assembly elections has been on a declining curve, is getting its act together as TMC finds itself cornered on corruption and misgovernance issues, according to Majumder.
"In addition to dharnas being organised to highlight administrative failure in Howrah, Nadia and Murshidabad, we have chalked out plans for agitations at Bethuadahari in Nadia and Beldanga in Murshidabad – places which saw the collapse of law and order. Our Howrah district party office was badly damaged during the recent stir. We have decided to open a new district office and make it an occasion for large-scale mobilisation of our supporters", Majumder told NewsClick.
The state Congress is slowly reactivating itself, the latest issue being ED interrogation of Rahul Gandhi and scheduled questioning by ED of Sonia Gandhi in the National Herald case. South Bengal, where TMC has a strong presence barring the Jungle Mahal region, is now offering opportunities to the Opposition to make its presence felt.
North Bengal, particularly the Darjeeling Hills, is in the news these days because of the scheduled elections to the 45-seat Gorkha Territorial Administration, which were due in 2017.
BJP and its ally, Gorkha National Liberation Front, are not in the fray as they think GTA is not designed to fulfil the people's aspirations. The Bimal Gurung faction of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, now with TMC, is also staying away, confirmed its general secretary Roshan Giri to NewsClick.
In the fray are relatively new political outfits -- Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha of Anit Thapa and Hamro Party of Ajay Edwards – and TMC. The surprising factor is the large number, about 350, of independents, many of whom, as knowledgeable quarters say, belonged to parties staying away and who chose to sever ties with their parties to contest as independents.
As for Gorkhaland, the demand this time around is there but not strident.
Thus, Thapa talks of raising it at an appropriate time while Edwards plans to set up a well-equipped research centre on Gorkhas, their heritage, their culture and their rich past.
Asked about the possible outcome, veteran Hill politician Harka Bahadur Chhetri, who heads the Jan Andolon Party, which is staying away "for want of funds", said that as the situation has unfolded, it is difficult to read a possible outcome. It may be a hung House, giving the independents who win a chance to step in and help constitute GTA.
It appears there has been a subtle change in the BJP's strategy, which has been talking about a permanent political solution to the Gorkhaland issue and for the demands of other separatist elements in North Bengal, the party has been maintaining a studied silence. But, party president Jagat Prakash Nadda during his meeting with party functionaries in Kolkata on June 9, is reported to have advised them to refrain from raising demands for a separate state.
Nadda also told them that the party wants to resolve the Darjeeling Hills issue. But, at the same time, it has to keep in view the geographical boundaries of Bengal. [There is a view that the proximity of Nepal and China weighs on the Union government. While recently interacting with NewsClick, Prof Amitava Kanjilal, who teaches political science at Siliguri College, suggested that he share this view].
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