Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI
Kolkata: Post-election clashes have become common in West Bengal in the recent years. The situation this time has acquired a new dimension, as to the bewilderment of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), the BJP was able to take its Lok Sabha seat tally to 18 out of the total of 42, from just two in 2014. Violence had erupted even before the counting of votes had concluded on May 23. Since then the situation had remained tense and the leaders of the two parties had been engaging in verbal duels.
Matters worsened on Saturday (June 8) evening when supporters of the two parties clashed with guns at Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district, some 60 km from Kolkata, resulting in at least four casualties. This incident saw fast-paced action by the central government. The Union Home Ministry blamed the violence on the failure of the state’s law enforcement machinery to maintain the rule of law. Not only this, the Centre also sought action against the delinquent officials.
The tone and tenor of the Centre’s message infuriated Mamata Banerjee and the bureaucrats responsible for maintaining law and order in the state. They viewed this as an undue interference by the Centre in the state’s affairs, particularly because law and order is a subject under the domain of the state government. As a response, the state government challenged the assessment of the Centre in writing. Judging by their reaction, it was clear that the state was viewing the message as an example of Amit Shah exhibiting power as the Union Home Minister.
Apart from political violence, there have been instances of violence in other places as well. In the latest instance, on Tuesday, June 11, a severe assault was launched on doctors at the NRS Medical College and Hospital after the death of a septuagenarian patient belonging to the minority community. The incident triggered a chain shutdown of healthcare services in the state, with doctors going on strike against the government’s failure to protect the medical professionals. It may be mentioned here that Mamata herself is in-charge of the two relevant portfolios – home (police) and health.
While Mamata herself and TMC’s ministers and other top leaders are yet to reconcile themselves with the loss of 12 Lok Sabha seats in relation to their 2014 tally of 34 seats, and the BJP is trying hard to exploit its new-found acceptance in the state, a new factor that has surfaced, of late, is causing serious concern to the chief minister. Recently, at an administrative meeting chaired by the chief minister, some of her ministers complained that police officers were not paying any heed to their complaints and suggestions. To this, Mamata added her own version saying that she had received reports to the effect that at several places the police officers “were not doing their duty”. She asked the DGP to be stricter and be tough with law breakers.
This, in a sense, also means that the police officers were taking orders from the BJP leaders, as they, after the Lok Sabha election results, were “seeing a different writing on the wall”, as political observers like to put it. Long accustomed to the dominating attitude of the TMC ministers and other categories of leaders, the police officials looked upon this as a chance to teach them a lesson.
Mamata, on her part, is not showing political maturity in dealing with the BJP despite having spent over 35 years in politics. She is viewing the agitations by the BJP as the party’s plan to create chaos in the state and, therefore, asking the police not to be liberal in granting permissions. Also, her ultra-aggressiveness and outbursts against the BJP do not find consonance with fairly large sections of the politically conscious people of the state because they remember how she had been an ally of the NDA and was a member of the Vajpayee Cabinet.
The BJP has been adopting an aggressive stance since the announcement of the Lok Sabha election results and making its ambitions clear. It is trying to organise agitations on several issues of public importance. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad mentored by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is trying to establish its presence in the state’s colleges.
These things are okay. But, the BJP must reckon its limitations. The party is structurally very weak and it does not have state-level leaders of any relevant stature yet. The BJP’s Joint Secretary (Organisation) Ram Lal recently had a meeting with the state outfit and he bluntly told the office-bearers since there were virtually no recognised leaders at the moment, the organisation must gain sufficient ground so that people accept it as a party capable of delivering. This was clearly in reference to the upcoming Assembly elections.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Kolkata, who has been associated with Hindu Business Line and Economic Times in the past. Views are personal.