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Appeasement politics boomeranged on Mamata

By Payal Mohanka
May 27, 2019 10:22 IST

'A hugely dangerous game which she thought she had mastered has now found a stronger opponent,' points out Payal Mohanka.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at her Save the Constitution dharna in Kolkata in February. Photograph: ANI

IMAGE: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at her Save the Constitution charna in Kolkata in February. Photograph: ANI

While the saffron surge in West Bengal has stunned the country, anger against the ruling Trinamool Congress had been simmering for a while in the state.

The bitterness that had been building up translated into a phenomenal 18 Lok Sabha seats for the BJP in a state where it won a mere 2 seats five years ago.

This stupendous success has taken the BJP's vote share from 18% to 40%, with the TMC at 43%, the Congress at 5% and the Left Front, now a spent force in the state, down to 7%.

The BJP's current vote share will give the party about 130 seats in the assembly polls two years away.

With the Left completely decimated, the BJP is marching towards its next bastion.

Having wrested power from the Left Front eight years ago and scripted her own brand of politics, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee now faces the frightening prospect of a saffron tsunami in her state as well.

 

What changed the plot?

Mamata Banerjee's politics of appeasement has boomeranged on her.

A hugely dangerous game which she thought she had mastered has now found a stronger opponent.

A chief minister who had no qualms about featuring in giant hoardings with her head covered and hands raised offering namaaz is today stridently opposing the new battle cry, Jai Shri Ram.

In a state where different communities have co-existed peacefully for decades, Banerjee's brazen wooing of the minority community was slowly but surely creating resentment amongst the masses: Monthly grants to imams, allowing Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to stay illegally in the state, permitting large scale infiltration from Bangladesh into West Bengal.

Last year when the Muharram procession and Durga Puja immersion clashed on the same day, she shifted the immersion date.

The BJP used this as ammunition to further fuel the fires that were already raging within.

Moreover, in the panchayat elections last year, the TMC won one-third of the seats unopposed.

Non-TMC candidates were not allowed to stand.

These bullying tactics were bound to trigger a backlash.

The TMC is following the Left Front's policy of driving out all opposition.

This undemocratic style would eventually meet its nemesis.

A BJP insider says, "The terror of the TMC in rural areas created a fear psychosis. There was high-handedness, there was arm-twisting and people were not allowed to vote."

"The presence of the central forces in the last one-and-a-half months and the massive attendance at the countless rallies in Bengal by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah gradually chipped away at the fear and they turned up in large numbers to vote."

Mamata Banerjee's might to take on the Left Front who had ruled for 34 years had been hugely admired.

But today she faces her biggest challenge.

Her failure to punish those involved in the Sarada chit fund scam has also alienated her from the masses, her vitriolic outbursts too have now begun to jar.

Today, her administrative style, her complete disregard for a contrarian view and poor man-management skills are now contributing to her downfall.

She has marginalised talented bureaucrats and allowed a couple of handpicked IPS officers to run the state.

She has also snubbed senior party members openly and vested huge power in her nephew Abhishek Banerjee.

The BJP's victory in the state could now open up new avenues for disgruntled veterans.

Abhishek Banerjee is believed to have played a role in Mukul Roy's exit from the TMC.

Once Mamata Banerjee's trusted aide, Roy left the TMC two years ago and joined the BJP.

Firmly ensconced in the state, the TMC rode roughshod, creating enemies both within and outside.

Mukul Roy, despite being tainted in the Sarada chit fund scam, was embraced by the BJP for his deep understanding of grassroot level politics in Bengal and organisational capability.

Roy was also one of the team members who had originally built the TMC's election machinery in the state and has now certainly proved to be an asset to the BJP.

Roy gave the BJP's state unit a much-needed boost and was supported by RSS cadres too.

While Mamata Banerjee, who tried desperately to form a Third Front and probably nurtured serious prime ministerial ambitions, sees her dreams lying in fragments, there are murmurs of a split in the party.

Can Mamata salvage her party's sinking fortunes? Serious introspection and a complete overhaul of her team of advisors could save the day.

Can Mamata rewrite her script? Some feel it is too late for a course correction by the TMC, which faces a siege within too.

Unlike most other states in India, the saffronisation in West Bengal is surging forward from the rural areas.

Kolkata is still to be conquered.

Will the BJP breach this last bastion?

Can the BJP's success continue as an unstoppable juggernaut and will Amit Shah's prophecy come true? 'Is baar half, aglay baar saaf (Half the votes this time, a complete sweep next time?)'

Payal Mohanka
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