“It happened to be a choice between the Congress and Ma, Mati, Manush. I chose the
latter,” said West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Whatever advantage the Trinamool Congress had once seen in sticking with the UPA at the Centre was thinning fast, what with the Congress image hitting a trough. What better remedy than to pull out its stakes, and use it to burnish its reputation as a ‘grassroots’ party. The diesel price hike, cap on subsidised LPG and the clearance of FDI in multi-brand retail offered it the ideal alibi. “We’d warned that we won’t tolerate any anti-people policies. So we had to exit. The possibility of other parties trying to take advantage of the situation doesn’t concern us,” she added.
Other parties do not share Mamata’s proclaimed indifference to the situation she has created. Nationally, the Congress is approaching it with studied caution, and others are seeking to eke out opportunities from the crisis. In West Bengal, however, the whole spectrum is agog. The TMC, CPI(M), BJP—all are looking to make the most of it.
Even the Congress. “Yes, her decision to part ways with us augurs well for us. We will re-emerge as a major political party in our own right in the state,” says Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury. “The alliance with TMC was more of a burden. We would have had a stronger presence, but the tie-up forced us to give up many seats during seat-sharing. The morale of our party workers has now received a boost; they had been feeling depressed playing second fiddle to the TMC.”
At the other end of the political spectrum, the mood at the state BJP office on Central Avenue too is one of hope: there are those who would now see the party emerging as a force in the state. Tapas Chatterjee, vice-president of the state BJP unit, says, “The people of West Bengal have rejected the Left. It might be said, from the way the Left has fared in the last few elections, that people are not afraid to give other parties a chance to form a government—after 34 long years. They brought in a TMC-Congress government. If there is disillusionment, they will bring the BJP to power too.”
There are, at the same time, curious straws in the wind. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a TMC MP has confirmed that “the Congress has approached several of us in the past couple of days, pressing us to quit the TMC. We are considering. If we have the numbers, we will do so.” However, Mamata has dismissed reports of any budding dissension in her party. “These are distorted reports,” she says. But if the other parties are seeking to manoeuvre the situation in West Bengal to their best advantage, it may not be as easy for her as she would make it seem.
But at the moment, as Mamata points out, the TMC holds the clear majority, a leverage she knows how to utilise. Political analysts say it’s this knowledge that allows her to take a gamble at the Centre, especially when the panchayat elections are around the corner. Tarun Ganguly, a political commentator, says, “The three key issues over which she withdrew support—bringing in FDI in multi-brand retail, the diesel price hike and the scheduling of subsidy on cooking gas—are seen as populist, but panchayat-level voters are most likely to see her stance as a reason to support her.” And neither the CPI(M) nor the BJP can attack her on the position she has taken on these issues.
As we go to press, the final act in the play—of Mamata’s ministers at the Centre formally handing in their papers— seems, well, just a formality. Far removed from the impulsive streak she normally gets accused of, this time it’s a well-calculated sacrifice of stakes.
Mamata Banerjee can, of course, hope to sell her opposition to the Centre’s decision on FDI to voters during the panchayat elections in West Bengal (An All-New Laboratory). But panchayat elections—being at the lowest rung—are a different ballgame. How much do national-level debates affect voting in village elections? She has to answer too for decisions taken by the UPA when she was part of the coalition. And this will subtract from her vote kitty. Even so, she is bound to win—thanks to the goondas her party will unleash during elections.
Satyabrata Chakraborty, Calcutta
The TMC’s withdrawal from the UPA was neither sudden nor unexpected. The Congress has often taken policy decisions without taking coalition partners into confidence. Mamata must be hailed for walking out.
K.R. Srinivasan, Secunderabad
Mamata's men dropped from Union Ministry, we can be 100% sure will turn hostile to her. Their happiness, pepf and power have been snatched suddenly. They were accustomed to enjoying unique degree authority which is no more with them.
And Mamata Banerjee had ignored the basic principle of democracy. She has chosen men of her own caste for berth in the Union Cabinet and other positions of authority! She will learn her lesson by the time next election comes.
Right, some political changes have already taken place in West Bengal, and some more may be in the offing. I would only highlight two developments. True, Mamata can hope to sell her opposition to centre's decision during the panchayat elections. But, then, pancahyat elections, especially at the lowest tier is an altogether different ball game. The idioms are different. How much all-India issues affect their ballot is a matter of guess. Moreover, Mamata has also to answer the results of her misgovernance like suppressing pesasnt suicide, sky-hihg rise in prices, cost of fertilizer (after all she was in the UPA for 3 years), rampant and violant factional fight leading to deaths, injury and even eviction, extortion both in rural and urabn areas, paralysed or partisan functioning of the police, anarchy in the education system including schools, colleges and universities. Despite these Mamata is likely to have a decisive win -- this time not so much due to her popularity but with the service of the goondas TMC will deploy in massive number in many parts of West Bengal. The opposition parties will not be able to fill their candidates in many villages, and the police will either be silent spectator or open participant in the crime.
The break-away of the Mamata family, as hinted by Mitra, cannot be completely ruled out. There are simmering discontent against her. Threat of marginalization still deters many. But it may not work equally strongly six months hence. Given that no one in the TMC has any positive commitment whatsoever, and nearly all of them change their party more frequently than they change their shirs assurance of sufficiently lucrative offer may play havoc in the autocratic party run from Kalighat.
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