The Trinamool Congress is labouring under a slew of corruption charges that have severely dented the image of the party, especially in the rural areas of the state.
And if the BJP’s Bengal unit can get its act together and launch a concerted and intensive campaign against the ruling party, it stands a good chance of defeating the Trinamool in many parts of the state in the panchayat elections scheduled for early next year.
The arrest of senior Minister Partha Chatterjee a few months ago and recovery of huge amounts of cash and jewellery from the residence of his lady associate, dealt a gigantic blow to the Trinamool.
The subsequent disclosures of huge anomalies in recruitment to teaching and non-teaching posts in government schools under Chatterjee’s watch, as well as involvement of other Trinamool functionaries in this huge cash-for-jobs scam, has put the ruling party on the backfoot.
The arrest of party strongman Anubrata Mandal in a cattle smuggling scam, and the unearthing of his huge wealth by central agencies, has also severely damaged the Trinamool’s image.
These were followed in quick succession by detection of innumerable anomalies in centrally-funded welfare projects like the Prime Minister Awas Yojana (PMAY) and MGNREGA.
Trinamool functionaries across the state, especially at the grassroots level, were found to have packed the lists of PMAY beneficiaries with ineligible persons, including their close relatives or people they had allegedly taken money from.
A comprehensive audit of MGNREGA revealed gross anomalies with many fake or ghost names in the lists of beneficiaries and many projects existing only on paper.
Once again, Trinamool functionaries, especially in the rural areas, stood accused of siphoning off huge sums of money from this central scheme.
Even the state’s own development and welfare schemes have gotten mired in corruption and mismanagement, leaving a large section of people unhappy and angry.
“Widespread corruption enveloping practically all development and welfare projects, be they funded by the state or the Union Government, has made people angry. The image of the ruling party has taken a severe beating," said Shakti Burman, an agricultural expert who was a senior scientist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and works extensively in Bengal’s rural hinterland.
"The anger among masses over Trinamool’s corruption is more pronounced in rural areas since the rural people have been directly affected by that corruption. It is the rural masses, the intended beneficiaries of various welfare projects and schemes, who have been denied their dues and that has antagonised them,” he added.
Trinamool leaders acknowledge this anger among the people, especially the rural masses, over corruption and anomalies that have characterised the implementation of many welfare projects and schemes in the state.
Added to this is the sheer incompetence of many elected representatives belonging to the Trinamool at the Gram Panchayat and Panchayat Samiti levels.
“These elected representatives have not done any work because of the notion that their party enjoys a monopoly in the state and cannot be dislodged from power. Hence, they feel they do not need to work in order to get re-elected. They also feel that Mamata Banerjee’s appeal is strong enough to overcome any anti-incumbency and ensure their return to power,” said political analyst Bibhas Majumdar.
The fact that the Trinamool’s top leadership is making desperate attempts to distance the party and itself from corrupt and non-performing functionaries is proof of the deep rot within that party, says BJP’s Suvendu Adhikary.
Trinamool general secretary and Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek has been in a damage-control mode of late. For the past couple of months, he has been repeatedly stating that there is no place for the corrupt within the party and has been vowing to expel corrupt leaders from the outfit.
Abhishek Banerjee has started touring the rural areas of the state to set things right. He has, however, been deluged with complaints against non-performing and corrupt panchayat functionaries belonging to the Trinamool.
Banerjee has even asked panchayat functionaries against whom he received complaints to step down from their posts. This happened in East Midnapore early this month when residents of Marishda Gram Panchayat complained to him that there has been no development in their area.
He promptly asked the Panchayat pradhan Jhunurani Mondol and her deputy, Ramakrishna Mondol, as well as the president of the party’s block unit, to step down.
A week later, Abhishek Banerjee asked the pradhan of Tatla-1 Gram Panchayat in Nadia district to step down after receiving complaints against him. Banerjee’s ‘perform or perish’ diktat has been conveyed to all Panchayat functionaries belonging to his party.
“But this will not douse people’s anger. He (Abhishek Banerjee) cannot fool people with such cosmetic acts. Everyone in Bengal knows that corruption and incompetence is not limited to the lower echelons of the Trinamool and the entire party right from top to bottom is steeped in corruption,” Suvendu Adhikary told Swarajya.
Bibhas Majumdar points out that given all this, a fertile ground exists for the BJP to make inroads into the rural areas of the state, especially the districts where the saffron party has not been able to make much headway.
“The BJP can tap into this widespread anger among the rural masses over corruption and misgovernance by the Trinamool. Mamata Banerjee’s many doles and sops have not been able to douse this anger because corruption under the Trinamool has become endemic and has resulted in people being denied their dues,” said Majumdar.
But for that to happen, the BJP has to first get its act together. The saffron party’s state leaders have to sink their differences and work unitedly to take on the Trinamool behemoth in the rural polls.
Despite all the allegations of corruption and misgovernance against the party, the Trinamool is very strong at the grassroots level and it will not be easy for the BJP to match the Trinamool’s organisational strength and muscle power.
Not when its (the BJP’s) leaders are bickering among themselves and spawning factionalism among the ranks.
“The BJP has to strengthen itself organisationally at the grassroots level and that can only happen if the party is united. Unity among the leaders will convey a positive message to the workers and functionaries at the ground level and enthuse them. The electorate will also gather confidence to support the BJP,” Debangshu Acharya, a professor of political science, told Swarajya.
Acharya, who follows political developments very closely, pointed out that unity in the top echelons of the BJP at the state level is a prerequisite for motivating workers at the grassroots level.
“Only if the leaders are united can a party frame a comprehensive battle strategy and implement it in a concerted manner. And only that can motivate workers to work wholeheartedly for the party. Once people see workers of a political party campaigning spiritedly at the ground level, they (the electorate) will gain the required confidence in that party,” Acharya explained.
That is why the central leadership of the BJP has been urging the state leaders to join ranks and take on the Trinamool unitedly.
The ground is fertile for the growth of the BJP in rural Bengal, but it is up to the saffron party to seize the initiative and implant itself in rural Bengal.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.