Mamata Banerjee's stance on Pulwama reveals her insecurity and creates space for Pakistan to exploit

Mamata Banerjee, not surprisingly, has taken the lead in shattering the veneer of rare political unity over Pulwama terror attacks. This isn’t the first time the West Bengal chief minister has indulged in incendiary political rhetoric, but the timing of her statement and the serious nature of her allegation risk lowering the political discourse further on a sensitive topic at a very sensitive time for national security.

The West Bengal chief minister must remember that there is a time and place for everything, including politics that seems to have consumed her to a point of paranoia. Her recent comments and insinuations over the terror strikes (carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammed) that took away the lives of 42 CRPF jawans are not only an insult to the memory of the deceased but jeopardise India’s diplomatic position at a time when New Delhi is trying to isolate Pakistan for its direct role in the assault.

It is not as if Mamata — a shrewd politician and administrator — doesn’t understand the implications of her statement. But her priorities are so skewed that even national security can be sacrificed at the altar of political opportunism.

Mamata Banerjees stance on Pulwama reveals her insecurity and creates space for Pakistan to exploit

File photo of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Reuters

Elections and power are temporal factors in politics. India has suffered the worst terror strike in Kashmir for decades. It is no less than another act of war by Pakistan which has been using nuclear deterrence as a leverage to wage a perpetual sub-conventional war against the Indian state. At a time when New Delhi is exploring all the diplomatic, economic and kinetic options at its command to punish Pakistan, the least political parties can do is to show a semblance of solidarity and back the government in its actions. This issue goes beyond politics, or it ought to be.

Sadly, Mamata perhaps feels insecure at the rush of nationalistic fervour and outrage sweeping the nation since the attack took place and resulted in the loss of 42 lives, and fears that an outpouring of grief may somehow benefit the BJP in the upcoming elections. This is a myopic and misleading view, but nobody can hold Mamata ‘guilty’ of showing political maturity.

She seems to be hinting at a bizarre conspiracy theory that the Narendra Modi government has somehow orchestrated (either directly or tacitly) the terror strike carried out by JeM for political gains. During a media briefing at the state secretariat on Monday, Mamata said, “What actions have been taken in the past five years to stop Pakistan? How did you allow Pakistan to do it? From where did Pakistan get such encouragement? Why did this happen when elections are round the corner, and just after the Parliament session has ended?”

She went on to suggest that the Centre is trying to launch a “shadow war” for electoral gains.

“When election is knocking on the door, you have felt a need to wage a war. You have felt there is a need to engage in a shadow war. You have felt the need to play with the lives of the people.”

She accused the prime minister of creating “war-like hysteria” and called for his resignation. “Amit Shah and Narendra Modi are delivering political speeches. Even after such a big mishap, you do not resign taking responsibility and are instead delivering political speeches,” she said.

She also suggested that the government was complicit in the death of jawans for allegedly failing to act on intelligence inputs and not “airlifting” the paramilitary jawans instead of transporting them in buses. And she also accused the Centre of “tapping” her phones.

“I have intelligence reports that my phone is always tapped. I have evidence and I will share it when the time is right. My phone is also being recorded.”

The reason behind Mamata’s paranoia is not known. But it is possible that the Trinamool Congress chief feels that the terror strike has come at an opportune time for the BJP since the issue of nationalism is likely to solidify public opinion and override caste and community calculations that certain parties hope to exploit.

Animosity towards Pakistan is among the rare issues that cut across geographical, sociological and ethno-cultural boundaries and bind this diverse nation. Mamata’s nervousness on this score is evident when she expresses displeasure at flag-waving, candle-light processions being taken out in different parts of the state – as in many parts of the country.

She sees an RSS and BJP conspiracy in it, claiming that “they are trying to trigger communal riots by taking out late night processions with national flags. They are trying to exploit the tragedy for political dividend. It is a planted game of the RSS, VHP and the BJP. We will resist attempts to take political advantage of the situation.”

Mamata’s paranoia is unfounded. There is no direct correlation between war and electoral gains. Winning a war doesn’t guarantee electoral benefits but losing it may result in a backlash. And in any case, kinetic action against a nuclear-armed neighbour that doesn’t cross Rawalpindi’s nuclear threshold is a hard act to pull off. It is therefore a double-edged sword for the Indian government. Modi has delivered a stern warning to Pakistan, and has promised retribution. If he fails to match his actions to words, public opinion may turn against him. It is preposterous and cynical to suggest that this was a grand conspiracy of some sort.

But what Mamata’s ridiculous statement has done is create space for Pakistan to exploit. It is not known whether Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan was aware of Mamata’s comments when he suggested in the video message that India’s “sabre-rattling” over Pulwama was an “electoral compulsion.”

Incidentally, Trinamool Congress had raised objections against the statement released after the all-party meeting on Saturday. Media reports indicate that Mamata’s party had an objection to the last line of the joint resolution that was subsequently toned down at TMC’s behest. One BJP leader has accused her of “diluting” the statement where Pakistan’s name found no mention.

According to a report in NDTV, the last line was drafted to say, “Today, we all resolve to stand with our security forces and efforts of the Centre and State Govt to ensure that these challenges are suitably and firmly responded to.” This suggested a plan of action that TMC was apparently uneasy with. The “action points” were removed from the resolution at the insistence of Trinamool, states the report.

It is nobody’s case that TMC is “backing” Pakistan, or trying to shield it. What is apparent, however, that as the election dates near, Mamata is showing greater signs of paranoia and nervousness. For a party that boasts it will win 42 out of 42 seats in Bengal, what’s the need for such insecurity?

Apart from the external damage that her statement has caused, it has also created precedent for other parties to exploit, as Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has predictably done.

Mamata should take a long, hard look at her politics. She aspires to be a national leader and move to the seat of power of Delhi. This self-obsession doesn’t match her ambition.

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2019 16:34:39 IST

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