Will the Mamata Banerjee versus Centre battle end up uniting opposition parties against BJP even more?
From Rahul Gandhi to Omar Abdullah, from Arvind Kejriwal to Sharad Pawar, the length and breadth of India's regional political forces seem to have latched on to the lucrative pre-poll situation presented by Mamata's protests following a CBI team's visit to question the Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar for his alleged involvement in a chit fund scam.
Mamata's rallies are invariably high on optics and charged with emotion
Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Omar Abdullah all tweeted of telephone calls between themselves and Mamata
With the exception of Rahul, who sent his party leader Mallikarjun Kharge, all of these leaders were seen and heard at the Brigade Parade Grounds in Kolkata
Each time Mamata Banerjee protests, shifts occur in the political dimension of Bengal that have changed entire discourses. This time, as she sits at the crossroads of central Kolkata, she also heralds the possibility of an Opposition united against the Bharatiya Janata Party like never before.
One has only to look at those tagged in Derek O'Brien's tweets to gauge the amount of support drummed up by the Bengal ruling party. From Congress chief Rahul Gandhi to National Conference's Omar Abdullah, from Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal to National Congress Party's Sharad Pawar, the length and breadth of India's regional political forces seem to have latched on to the lucrative pre-poll situation presented by the Central Bureau of Investigation team going to question the Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar for his alleged involvement in a chit fund scam.
All of us together Thank u @H_D_Devegowda@RahulGandhi Behen MayawatiJi@mkstalin@yadavakhilesh@ncbn @ArvindKejriwal@Pawarspeaks@laluprasadrjd@OmarAbdullah@MehboobaMufti
— Derek O'Brien | ডেরেক ও’ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) February 4, 2019
Mamata's rallies are invariably high on optics and charged with emotion.
In 1991, attacked by CPM leader Lalu Alam, she fractured her head at the busy Hazra crossing in Kolkata, while leading a Congress rally, reported India Today. The incident is still mentioned in Trinamool Congress rallies.
In 1993, photos of Mamata being physically dragged out of the state secretariat Writers' Building for protesting appeared on every daily.
In 2006, Mamata sat in a dharna at the same Metro Channel where she is seated now, in a hunger strike that ended up not just ensuring that the Tatas do not set up a factory on agricultural land at Singur but also that two years later, the 34-year-old Left Front government would fall.
Mamata sits once again, at a site which is impossible to miss, a street fighter reborn, as The Hindu has called her. Winter and a state budget notwithstanding, the image of a lone woman fighting a ruling dispensation and its crime watchdog is enough for all political hopefuls to not skip a beat while announcing support to her.
The show of support, of course, is a public affair. Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Omar Abdullah all tweeted of telephone calls between themselves and "Mamata didi", respectively. Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav said the BJP was "so scared of losing that CBI is being used as election agents."
In one succinct tweet, Rashtriya Janata Dal scion Tejashwi Yadav, not only spoke of a telephone call to Mamata and his disdain for BJP's "nefarious" agenda, but he also voiced plans to visit Kolkata on Monday. Among others to have voiced support, on and off Twitter, are Karnataka chief minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy, Rashtriya Lok Dal vice-president Jayant Chaudhary, Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief MK Stalin, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Andhra chief minister and Telugu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu.
With the exception of Rahul, who sent his party leader Mallikarjun Kharge, all of these leaders were seen and heard at the Brigade Parade Grounds in Kolkata on 19 January, the day of the mega rally by 23 Opposition parties.
Yet this protest — not staged on a dais which took weeks to construct but on a sidewalk across the road from the Brigade — achieves much more than the grand show on the 19th. And that is because it gives these parties something they did not have earlier in January: one, solid rallying point against the BJP.
The protest by Mamata ostensibly focuses on "saving the Constitution" and blaming the BJP for its role in using it to do the Centre's bidding. But for many political leaders, there is an incentive too in slamming the CBI itself and positing it as a discreditable organisation.
Not only is the CBI, with its hierarchy in tumult, a worthy target for the opposition now, leaders in charge of state government, especially, have suffered thanks to the CBI's industriousness at striking non-BJP governments before poll time.
Many Trinamool Congress leaders like Kunal Ghosh, Srinjoy Bose, Madan Mitra, Sudip Bandopadhyay and Tapas Pal have been held in connection with scams. Congress leader P Chidambaram's wife Nalini is among several high profile people named by the CBI in connection with the Saradha case which led the CBI to Rajeev Kumar's door, thus setting off the chain of events leading to Mamata's protest.
The fact that this momentary opportunity to slam the Centre is one that cannot be ignored is apparent from the fact that even the Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal which has until now been reluctant to openly align itself with any opposition movement, spoke in favour of restoring "institutional integrity."
"Even in Odisha, (the) sudden action of CBI just before panchayat and general elections smacks of unprofessional conduct and political motives," the party's official handle tweeted. The Saradha and Rose Valley scams have affected Odisha as well, with the BJD expelling a handful of its leaders for alleged involvement in these and other chit fund scams.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and People's Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti also expressed solidarity, saying "history stands testament" to how her state has faced the wrath of central agencies.
With the CBI proving to be the common enemy, it remains to be seen how the opposition parties choose to harness the power of the situation now.
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