Cut-money, votebank, crime, jobs, nephew, desertions: All that may pull Mamata down
The TMC chief will enter the race for Bengal with the baggage she has created for herself in ten years tied to her ankles
In Bengal, fields of white kaash flowers are harbingers of Durga Puja and fields of blood herald elections.
The auspicious one has passed. The ominous one is fast approaching.
The state BJP alleges that goons of the ruling TMC have brazenly murdered more than 120 of its workers and leaders. It says Mamata Banerjee’s regime is trying to quell its spectacular rise by the use of terror.
Banerjee retains strong mass appeal among large sections of the state’s electorate. Her simplicity, street-fighter courage and grassroots connect still present a formidable political force.
Will the BJP be able to defeat her? Left to itself, the challenge may have seemed insurmountable. But the force that looks increasingly capable of defeating Mamata Banerjee is Mamata Banerjee herself.
She will enter the race for Bengal with the baggage she has created for herself in ten years tied to her ankles.
It all started with the very anti-corporate, anti-land acquisition movements — Singur and Nandigram — that propelled her to power in 2011. It gave business and industry such a comprehensive fright that no noteworthy service and manufacturing hub has come up since the Left left. The stagnation is staggering, migration is unabated. State satraps cite growth figures not adjusted to inflation and other such metrics to cover it up.
Cut-money, or bribes and brokerage, at every stage across sectors, has become endemic. Fingers point to the very top: at Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek. As his power within the party rises, so does talk of him controlling different lucrative syndicates across the state.
Abhishek could hinder his aunt’s chances in the coming election in more ways than one. Several old-timers see his rise as dynastic and devoid of any merit. They resent his apparently brash style of functioning.
At a time the BJP is fishing in TMC’s troubled waters with a large net, the disgruntlement makes it easier for it to catch the big fish like Shuvendu Adhikari.
Nepotism and corruption have reached a such a stage that the chief minister has had to publicly appeal to her workers to desist. Material and money for Amphan cyclone relief was reportedly distributed among local TMC leaders and their near ones, leaving out the ones whose lives were devastated by the storm.
Then there is law and order. The BJP has been waving a list of more than 120 saffron workers and leaders killed by TMC men in recent times. Unsettling images of young men being killed and hung from trees haunt voters. A young couple and their 6-year-old son were butchered because the husband, RSS activist Bondhu Prakash Pal, opposed the building of a mosque next to his house.
Gruesome rapes hog the headlines. A 16-year-old was recently gang-raped repeatedly in Jalpaiguri, killed and thrown into a septic tank. Her body was found a week later. Gang rape and murder of another minor triggered massive protests in North Dinajpur.
And finally, the slur of "Muslim appeasement" that Banerjee brought upon herself will be hard to erase. Her current political advisor Prashant Kishor has reportedly asked her to tone her till-now brazen Muslim votebank politics down and offer doles to Hindu priests as well as she did with imams and muezzins, but it could be too little too late.
A spate of NIA arrests of Al Qaeda sleeper cells from Murshidabad shows the kind of protection and penetration jihadists have enjoyed in the state. During the CAA protests, parts of Bengal burned. Hundreds of buses, several trains and railway stations were set on fire by Islamist mobs. The lawkeepers merely watched.
Add to this her recent flirting with Maoists, whom she had forcefully contained after coming to power. Naxal leader Chhatradhar Mahato’s wife has got a job and apparently an understanding is afoot. Bengal has a new spectre on the horizon — the coming together of Islamist and Maoist forces to defeat the BJP. A very dark and explosive cocktail.
It is not that Banerjee has failed in every front. Her government’s schemes like Kanyashree, Sabuj Sathi, Khadya Sathi are popular. Parts of the state have seen large-scale road and infrastructure-building.
But it may not be enough. The list of Banerjee’s baggage is too long. And a confident BJP, having tasted blood with its 2019 election success, is not going to let even a single piece of the baggage be lost on voters.