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Will the Narada sting operation dent Mamata's popularity?

March 24, 2017 10:26 IST

Any erosion in the TMC, may benefit the BJP, reports Ishita Ayan Dutt.

A maverick leader, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, always brings in an element of surprise.

Last Friday, when the Calcutta high court ordered a preliminary inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the Narada sting operation -- that allegedly featured many of the Trinamool ministers and MPs taking cash for favours in a video footage -- she stopped short of saying that the judiciary and the Centre were in cahoots.

“I have full respect for the judiciary but the fact remains that the order is the same as what a Bharatiya Janata Party leader had anticipated. How can a BJP state party president declare that the CBI would investigate this case after the UP polls? This sting operation was first aired from the BJP party office,” she said immediately after the Calcutta high court verdict.

On Tuesday, when the Supreme Court refused to stay the CBI probe, Mamata welcomed it and called it ‘positive’. Something amiss?

The fundamental difference between the two judgments is the time given to the central investigative agency to file the preliminary report; the high court had given 72 hours while the apex court has given a month.

Political analyst, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, says one month is a long time and may even be a comparative advantage.

According to him, it could open some room for discussions with the BJP at the Centre. The areas: presidential poll, Teesta water sharing and issue-based support in the Rajya Sabha.

But with the Communist Party of India-Marxist mouthing slogans like Modi Bhai, Didi Bhai -- after a lone TMC MLA suddenly extended support to BJP in Manipur -- an overt proximity with the saffron party may spell trouble for Trinamool.

Banerjee enjoys the undivided support of the Muslim population in West Bengal, that’s 27 per cent of the total population of the state.

Alleged corruption scandals against TMC


Saradha (2013): Several TMC MPs and MLAs were interrogated and some arrested in connection with this Rs 2,500 crore financial scam

Rose Valley (2014): Two TMC MPs are currently in CBI custody in connection with the Rs 15,000 crore financial scam

Narada (2016): A video footage showing several MPs and MLAs of TMC allegedly taking cash for favours is currently being probed by the CBI 

“Also, it is unlikely that the BJP will not try to spread its wings in Bengal. If not in the near future, it may still become a force to reckon with. Any erosion in the TMC, may benefit the BJP,” Basu Ray Chaudhury points.

So in the worst case scenario, if there are a few arrests in the TMC, will that affect its prospects? The acid test will be the panchayat election which is next year.

In rural Bengal, the spectre of fear reigns supreme. It did in Left’s time and it’s no different in TMC-ruled Bengal. The difference is that the angst in rural Bengal is often against the local Trinamool leader; Mamata’s clean image is watertight. And that is Trinamool’s safety net.

Plus, Banerjee can always play the victim card. She had taken it upon herself to lead the anti-demonetisation campaign across the country.

The Trinamool supremo aligned with Akhilesh and Arvind Kejriwal for the sake of demonetisation, or probably more. As she recently said, after the high court verdict in the Narada case, if they (BJP) target Bengal, we will target India.

But perhaps, demonetisation was the only time she failed to gauge the mood of the people. She has done well otherwise. Since 2011, TMC has bettered its performance in every poll.

Consider this: the Narada video footage was aired mid-March. Later that month, the Vivekananda flyover in North Kolkata came crumbling down, taking down 26 people. It laid bare the ‘syndicate raj’ or an extortion racket, which has reached phenomenal proportions in the Trinamool era. But Trinamool came out with flying colours in the assembly polls that followed a month later. Of course, the baggage of Saradha in which many TMC MPs were interrogated and arrested that she was already carrying, was long-forgotten by people.

“It’s to do with the electorate. The electorate doesn’t distinguish between the corrupt and non-corrupt. The electorate draws a distinction between the corrupt-efficient and corrupt-inefficient,” Basu Ray Chaudhury.

Bureaucrats simply say that Banerjee is a survivor. To them, she is a like a phoenix who rose from the ashes of assembly elections of 2006 when Trinamool bagged just 33 seats and went on to capture Bengal five years later. She is the designated survivor.

Ishita Ayan Dutt
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