Cut money row: Mamata Banerjee's intemperate statements may jeopardise TMC's prospects in civic body, West Bengal Assembly polls

Beleaguered West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee continues to tie herself up in knots. Her latest indiscretion is the raging ‘cut money’ row, which she raised publicly on 18 June while addressing Kolkata’s civic body leaders.

Banerjee’s admission that her party workers are not sparing even the dead, and are charging Rs 200 – or 10 per cent of Rs 2,000 that the state government gives to the poor to cremate the bodies of their near and dear ones – has opened a can of worms, and comes amid fears of mass desertion from TMC to the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). At a conservative estimate, around 2,000 Trinamool supporters are believed to be switching to the BJP every day, since the Lok Sabha election results were announced on 23 May.

 Cut money row: Mamata Banerjees intemperate statements may jeopardise TMCs prospects in civic body, West Bengal Assembly polls

File image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

The chorus for a ‘cut money refund’ encompassing all state government welfare schemes has been resonating across the state since Banerjee questioned TMC councillors in Kolkata Municipal Corporation, “Why is money being taken? The party is not going to tolerate it. Those who have taken money, go return it.”

Why did Banerjee choose an open forum to air her views on something that is common knowledge among the rank and file in Bengal?

The chief minister’s intemperate public utterances are bound to have an adverse impact on the Bengal civic body polls scheduled next year, and is likely to brighten the BJP’s prospects for a serious shot at power in the 2021 Assembly polls. Perhaps, public is private for Banerjee in these trying times.

Reeling under daily swipes from her trusted aide-turned-bitter-rival Mukul Roy, a custodian of many of her political secrets and well-versed in her wily moves, the chief minister appears to be capitulating without much ado to every provocation, the ‘cut money’ controversy being the latest case in point.

Known to run the party with an iron hand, the fiery 24x7 politician – often feted for her street fighter attributes and a perceived love and affection for ma, maati and manush (mother, motherland and people/humanity) – Banerjee has been losing her edge in the face of the BJP’s resurgence on her hitherto unchallenged home turf.

Little wonder that barely three weeks after her barefaced ‘appeasement’ of the Muslim minority, which makes up about 30 per cent of Bengal’s population, she walked into the ‘cut money’ trap with her eyes wide open, putting a question mark over her political maturity.

Popular Bengali singer Nachiketa Chakraborty, known to be an ardent supporter of Banerjee, further queered the Trinamool chief’s pitch on the weekend, when he uploaded his latest song, ironically titled ‘Cut Money’, on YouTube on Saturday. The lyrics, which explicitly refer to Didimoni or elder sister – a sobriquet for Banerjee – leave little to imagination.

Nachiketa insists that he would continue to stand by the under-fire chief minister, and has tried to portray the number as his take on nationwide corruption, but the viral song has caused BJP’s Asansol MP and Union minister Babul Supriyo, a singer-turned-saffron-politician himself, to weigh in with a social media post that thanks the singer for drawing the people’s attention to a burning issue while publicly sharing Nachiketa’s phone number.

Cartoon

The very next day, on 23 June, TMC swung into damage control mode, portraying that Banerjee’s message has been distorted by “a certain section of the media”.

Partha Chatterjee, the TMC secretary-general, issued a statement about the ‘miscommunication’, but ended up willy-nilly admitting that ‘0.01 per cent’ dishonest workers are sullying the party’s image. “The chairperson (Banerjee) reiterated her advice for them (the elected representatives) to work tirelessly for the welfare of the people and ensure that all funds allocated for public welfare schemes are utilised in the most productive manner possible," he said.

“The chairperson emphasised that 99.99% of Trinamool functionaries and elected representatives are honest, hardworking and committed to work for the benefit of the people. Some from different political parties are sullying the name of the party by indulging in corruption and unfair practices. They will be dealt with severely,” he further said in the statement.

Will the anodyne explanation find any takers? The mood in Bengal clearly suggests that Banerjee is losing her plot, and fast. The ruling party at the Centre would be upbeat about the prospects of annexing another state into the saffron fold.

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Updated Date: Jun 26, 2019 18:35:52 IST