Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Livemint
Kolkata: The West Bengal political scene in recent times has turned out to be much less acrimonious; raising doubts in the minds of discerning sections as to the possible reasons.
This is not unnatural; for the people of West Bengal have become accustomed to seeing, particularly from the pre-Lok Sabha election days, even sundry issues keeping the two political rivals—the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—at each other’s throats.
For TMC, Mamata Banerjee has been monopolising the outbursts against BJP. The latter’s tirade against TMC, at times as a reaction, is generally spearheaded by BJP’s minder for West Bengal Kailash Vijayvargiya; with lesser mortals giving him company. The persisting lull in acrimonious exchanges between the main political rivals has triggered speculation regarding whether a political transaction is in the works.
Veteran political observers are unanimous that the brake on strong, often “unparliamentary and abusive” anti-BJP remarks has first been applied by Mamata—may be on her own, may be on the advice of poll and political image make-over consultant Prashant Kishore and “may be under the compulsions of circumstances”. In recent days, she did target BJP on the killings in Jammu & Kashmir of five Muslim workers from Murshidabad district. But, the targeting was not as strident as before.
Observers are inclined to attribute Mamata’s practised restraint to “compulsions of circumstances” and argue that not only she but also her nephew and Lok Sabha member Abhishek Banerjee, who is defacto number two in TMC, appears to be practising restraint in “speaking out against BJP”.
They trace it to her meeting, at her own request, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on September 18 and 19 respectively. She then even invited the prime minister to flag off some time after the Puja preliminary work on Deocha Pachami block in Birbhum district, which the Centre had allotted exclusively to West Bengal, considering the state’s request and failure of the earlier allotment.
A widely held view is that Mamata is perturbed because of the stepped up pace of inquiry till a few months back by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the Saradha money scheme scam and Narada bribe acceptance cases, in which several of her party leaders, including some known to belong to her close circle, have been interrogated by CBI several times.
In fact, her frantic bid to protect serving senior IPS officer Rajiv Kumar, whom she not long ago described as “the world’s best police officer” is cited by observers in this context. Rajiv Kumar is well-informed on how the Saradha scam germinated and grew in dimension and CBI believes he also knows about attempts to conceal evidence. That explains why CBI wants to get hold of him and that also suggests why “Mamata is desperate to save Rajiv Kumar”, contend informed quarters. After all, the political future of several TMC leaders, including Abhishek, may be at stake then.
Asked about Mamata not being vocal now, as she used to be against the BJP, senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Rabin Deb told NewsClick, “Do you not see that the pace of CBI probe has slowed down? Has this not happened after she met Modi and Shah in New Delhi?” One version has it that Modi’s displayed firmness in dealing with corruption in high places has added to her woes and she wants to establish functional relationship with Modi.
Here, it is pertinent to ask if Mamata succeeds in toning down the rigours of CBI probe and follow-up of that, how BJP benefits from this gesture. One possibility is that the chief minister may then decide to involve the state with the Central schemes in which the state is currently not participating. For example, Ayushman Bharat. Interestingly, it may be mentioned that the state has firmed up schemes and even made financial provision for promoting Yoga and Ayurveda, programmes about which she had not evinced interest earlier and even ignored the Centre’s directives in this regard.
BJP thinks it can derive political mileage if Ayushman Bharat is implemented. Modi’s welfare concept can be vigorously projected, which, party leaders think, is more fruitful politically than harping on Mamata’s refusal to implement the Centre’s scheme.
BJP leader Jaiprakash Mazumdar sees the situation a bit differently. Mazumdar does not agree that Mamata is being less strident in her attack against BJP. “She is not using unparliamentary and abusive language against the top BJP leaders, particularly Modi and Shah, which was her habit for so long. May be, she is heeding Prashant Kishore’s advice,” said the BJP leader. Asked about the probes, he said he would not like to “comment on assumptions”.
Another senior BJP leader, Samik Bhattacharya, said “People were becoming tired of Mamata’s reckless remarks against Modi; people are becoming hostile to her. This possibly has forced her to practise restraint.”
A senior Congressman, Pradip Poddar, who has held senior positions in unions affiliated to Indian National Trade Union Congress, is of the view that Mamata now wants to keep a channel of communication with Modi open.
In the given circumstances, there is a hint of political transaction between Mamata and Modi-Shah taking place. The future will tell when and how, if at all.
But a political transaction, visible and one that has good amount of clarity, was recently between the Left Front and West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee leaders. Things started moving fast from September 30 when top Left Front leaders led by Biman Bose visited West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee (WBPCC) office at Bidhan Bhavan in central Kolkata. Formally, the reason was to visit the exhibition organised by WBPCC to depict the programmes undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi in undivided Bengal. The event was organised to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi.
But, the Congress leaders headed by PCC chief Somen Mitra and the Left Front team utilised the occasion to decide that they will work together to protect and nurture democracy, secularism and safeguard the Constitution.
Thereafter, the two sides kept in touch and finally on October 31, WBPCC leaders visited Kranti Press at Ripon Street, office of the publications of the Revolutionary Socialist Party of India. There, the two sides formalised an electoral deal under which they would share the three vacant Assembly seats for which elections would be held on November 25. The three seats are Kaliaganj in Uttar Dinajpur district, Karimpur in Nadia district and Kharagpur Sadar in Paschim Medinipur district. The Congress would field candidates for Kaliaganj and Kharagpur Sadar seats while CPM would contest from Karimpur. Old political adversaries thus decided to begin a new chapter in their relations to be able to take on TMC and BJP.