West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee has taken a plunge into poll preparations for the upcoming state Assembly elections scheduled to take place in 2021. Mamata made a series of announcements with regards to governance-related measures over the past two days, as her party prepares to seek a third consecutive term in ruling the state.
From announcing a cashless home insurance scheme for all and stoking public sentiments by involving two Nobel laureates with her programme to honour Subhas Chandra Bose, to announcing that she will resume overseeing the party's organisational affairs -- Wednesday and Thursday marked the beginning of Mamata Banerjee's campaign for the battle of 2021.
On Thursday, she extended the benefits of the state health insurance programme Swastha Sathi, which offers cashless treatment benefit up to Rs 5 lakh in private hospitals per family, to all the residents of the state. "All Bengali families will now be able to avail this benefit. Anyone who does not have a health insurance can avail it. Treatment in our government hospitals is free in any case. This card will come handy in about 1,500 enlisted private health facilities. We had earlier planned to bring 7.5 crore people under this scheme but now we extend it to 10 crore people," Mamata said.
The state population was recorded slightly above 9 crore in 2011 and current estimates claim that West Bengal has a population of 10 crore.
"Ayushman Bharat would have covered only 1.5 crore people. We are covering 10 crore people. For Ayushman Bharat, the card-holder too would have required to contribute. Here, the card-holder does not need to contribute," the CM said adding that the scheme will altogether cost the state exchequer Rs 2,000 crore. With a woman in the family as the holder of the card, parents of married women can also avail the benefits of this cashless insurance, she added.
The decision comes amid the BJP's consistent campaign that the state government was depriving the people of the state by not implementing the Ayushman Bharat scheme launched by the government of India. Home minister Amit Shah, too, targeted Mamata on this issue during his visit to the state earlier this month.
The TMC had maintained that the government did not implement Ayushman Bharat because Swastha Sathi, launched in December 2016, predates the Centre's scheme launched in September 2018, and that the state's scheme was a better one because it covered the parents of married women. Now, by extending the scheme to all residents of the state, the TMC government aims at countering the BJP's campaign.
From December, the government launched a programme called "government at your door" to be held in every community development block and municipal towns where people can enlist their family head's name for the scheme.
Meanwhile, Mamata also formed a committee for the celebration of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's 125th birth anniversary that would start on January 23, 2021. "Nobel Laureate professors Amartya Sen and Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee have kindly consented to be members of this committee," chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay said. Other members of the committee include poet Shankha Ghosh, historian and Bose’s grand-nephew Sugato Bose, and vice-chancellors of Calcutta University, Presidency University and Jadavpur University, among others.
"Netaji's Jai Hind slogan unified India," she said while referring to the national hero and West Bengal's tallest political personality of all time. She refused to accept any particular day as Bose's death anniversary, saying that his death has remained a mystery.
On her party's organisational issues, she gave hints of being more involved during an event in Bankura district on Wednesday. "There is a lot of talk about who is the party's observer for which district. I want to make it clear that I am the observer for all districts," she said.
The party recently published the post of district observer, disgruntling a section of leaders who thought their importance had been reduced. One of them is the frontline leader and powerful minister Suvendu Adhikari, who has been dropping hints of quitting the party.
"So long I gave my party a little less time to focus on the work of the government. From now on, I will look after the party affairs. I am starting the work right from here," she said.
Her remarks came amidst allegations from a section of rebel TMC leaders that the party was no longer being controlled by her -- indirectly indicating that her nephew was calling the shots in coordination with the party-appointed poll-strategist Prashant Kishor.
Incidentally, in the first press conference after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that witnessed the BJP's exponential gain as they increased their tally from 2 to 18, reducing the TMC's tally to 14 Lok Sabha seats compared to 34 in 2014 - Mamata Banerjee had said that she would henceforth give more time to her party.
Later, though, especially after the party appointed Kishor as its advisor, Mamata Banerjee shifted her focus on governance, while her nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, and Rajya Sabha MP and the party's all India-general secretary Subrata Bakshi, took organisational affairs into their hands and they acted in consultation with Kishor.
Over the past few months, a number of TMC leaders have voiced their opposition to Kishor's increasing influence in the party's organisational affairs. Political observers, however, have attributed this discontent not to Kishor but they claim its directed against Abhishek Banerjee's growing clout. The Diamond Harbour MP-cum-TMC youth wing chief joined politics after the TMC came to power and swiftly became Banerjee's heir apparent.
"After accepting her leadership in 1990, I have suddenly come to realise that the party is no longer Didi's party, she is indifferent. Therefore, 'Didi's men' are now without need and importance... My party is no longer in my leader's hand. It can no longer be my party," veteran TMC MLA from Cooch Behar south, Mihir Goswami had written on Facebook on November 17. Hariharpara MLA Niyamat Sheikh and Barrackpore MLA Shilbhadra Dutta had also publicly expressed their displeasure against “outsiders” and “professional agencies”.
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