While the Opposition is making a belated effort to form a joint front against the BJP, Mamata's ambiguous stand has created confusion, observes Virendra Kapoor.
A social media video doing the rounds depicts the people from the Enforcement Directorate landing early one morning at the house of a politician who, feeling flummoxed, protests: "But last week I joined the BJP!"
It is the turn of the raiding party to feel embarrassed now.
Sheepishly, they mumble, "So sorry, we did not know this," as they beat a hasty retreat.
There is no denying that the ED, CBI and other investigating agencies in the last eight years have mostly targeted those who are in the Opposition, though a much smaller number of raids have also taken place against those associated with the ruling dispensation.
A recent data collated by a newspaper of such raids under the NDA and the previous UPA government reveals a four-fold increase in the ED cases against politicians in the last eight years.
The study endorses the impression all of us have had all along that anti-BJP politicians mainly are targeted by the investigating agencies, including the income tax department.
Also, in the last eight years, the ED has been far more active in conducting raids than the CBI.
That said, another social media post sees a silver lining in the Raid Saj, arguing that if the NDA targets the Opposition politicians now, penalising them for the ill-gotten wealth, when the present Opposition comes to power it will not spare the present lot of rulers either.
'That way the Augean stables of Indian politics may well be cleaned and the loot and plunder of the people come to a halt.'
Whether that actually comes to pass is unclear, especially when the Opposition shows little sign of getting its act together, but all right-thinking people ought to welcome the ongoing drive against political corruption even if it is one-sided, targeting only the Opposition leaders.
For an element fear that sometime in the future their corruption might be exposed could deter politicians not to be so brazen in looting the people.
Nonetheless, the ED, CBI and other agencies probing the corrupt and the compromised serve as accessories of the ruling party insofar as they soften the Opposition leaders, forcing a number of them to cross over to the BJP.
Small wonder then when the Maharashtra assembly met after the installation of the rebel Shiv Sena-BJP government led by Eknath Shinde, it was greeted by members of the MVA with loud catcalls such as 'ED Chief Minister, ED government'.
Why, the clean chit to the prime minister from West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, absolving him of the charge of misusing the investigating agencies to target the Opposition is seen as a consequence of the ongoing raids against her nephew and successor Abhishek Banerjee.
With a senior Trinamool minister Partha Chatterjee along with his woman friend Arpita Mukherjee in jail and another senior Trinamool functionary Anubrata Mondal too in the CBI net, Mamata has reason to feel particularly vulnerable, especially after the ED lens focused on her family.
Mamata promptly sought to distance herself from her family, saying that aside from major festivals she hardly maintains any contact with them.
Otherwise, Mamata's statement implying that Modi has no role in the ongoing raids, since the CBI, ED are under Home Minister Amit Shah, is disingenuous, not standing up to a moment's scrutiny.
It is particularly so since the central government is tightly controlled by the PMO.
Besides, it is wrong to suggest that the home minister acts independently of the prime minister. Shah draws his strength from Modi and enjoys the PM's complete trust.
Therefore, for deciphering the real meaning behind Mamata's clean chit to the PM one has to look at some of the behind-the-scenes developments.
In this context the regional media spoke of a secret meeting arranged at short notice between Mamata on one side and Jagdeep Dhankar, then still the West Bengal governor, and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, on the other.
What transpired at the meeting held at the Raj Bhavan in Darjeeling in mid-July is not known, but since then Mamata has toned down her rhetoric against the PM.
Otherwise, there was no reason why the TMC should have refrained from voting against the BJP's vice-presidential candidate, the self-same Dhankar against whom as long as he had tenanted the Kolkata Raj Bhavan she had run a most vituperative campaign, even calling him a disgrace to the high Constitutional office of governor.
Old-timers recall how Mamata had played the good-cop-bad cop tune during NDA-I, calling Vajpayee good and his deputy Advani bad.
Just as Modi is good and Shah is bad now.
It is relevant to recall that she was part of the Vajpayee government and had even issued a certificate of good character to the RSS, saying the latter had some very good people.
But this time while the Opposition is making a belated effort to form a joint front against the BJP, even as the central government is engaged in defanging the Opposition, Mamata's ambiguous stand has created confusion.
Till very recently it was believed that in case Rahul Gandhi fails to provide leadership, Mamata, who dominates a major State which sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha, could emerge the main anchor around whom the anti-BJP groups could combine.
Mamata has belied that expectation, by going soft on Modi.
It is notable that after the 'secret' Darjeeling meeting, she met the PM, ostensibly to seek the release of more funds for her State.
Also, contrary to her earlier stance she attended a meeting of the Niti Aayog, which she had pointedly stayed away from all along during the Modi government.
Given that outside of the Congress, Mamata alone had the strongest credentials to lead a united Opposition, Mamata's mellowed down stance against the central government is a setback for Opposition unity.
For, no other Opposition leader enjoys electoral dominance in a major state -- neither Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra nor K Chandrashekhar Rao in Telengana nor, for that matter, Nitish Kumar in Bihar.
Her veering off from a strong anti-Modi line is bound to hurt the ongoing effort to bring the Opposition parties on one platform in time for the 2024 poll.
Without ensuring a one-to-one fight against the BJP chances of defeating the Modi-Shah duo remain bleak.
Columnist Virendra Kapoor -- former editor of the Free Press Journal and Onlooker magazine was jailed for his views during the Emergency.
You can read his earlier columns here.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com