Mamata Banerjee Faces The ‘12-Year Itch’ As Disenchantment Over Her Failings Spread
Panchayat polls are due in May and if the Trinamool loses in even a few districts, it will provide a momentum to the opposition, primarily the BJP.
Mamata Banerjee is a worried woman today.
She’s worried over the proverbial ‘12-year itch’ (she has been in power in Bengal for the past 12 years) that poses a challenge to her cosy relationship with Bengal’s electorate.
She’s worried over the fallout of multiple scams that have severely tarnished the image of her party and taken the sheen off her own satatar prateek (epitome of honesty) image, over her inability to pay more dearness allowance to disgruntled state employees and over mounting anti-incumbency against her government.
The cash-for jobs scam has started hurting the Trinamool, and triggered a lot of public discontent.
So has the government’s inability to carry on with centrally-sponsored schemes like the MGNREGA, the PM Awas Yojana and the PM Gram Sadak Yojana due to non-disbursal of funds by the Union Government over largescale irregularities that these schemes have got mired in.
State government employees are extremely unhappy over non-payment of DA at central government rates; Bengal government employees receive just a fraction of the DA that their central government counterparts get.
Mamata Banerjee is also fearful of more leaders and functionaries of her party being arrested by central agencies for their involvement in the multiple scams that have rocked Bengal since she became the chief minister in May 2011.
Here are some of Mamata Banerjee’s gravest woes:
Fallout of scams
The scam with the most adverse fallout is the bribes-for-jobs scam in which thousands of undeserving candidates--many of them Trinamool functionaries or relatives of party functionaries--were appointed to the posts of teachers and non-teaching staff in government schools between 2014 and 2021.
These candidates, or their families, liquidated their assets to pay bribes ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 15 lakh to get jobs.
Now that the Calcutta High Court, which had asked the CBI to probe the scam, has started ordering the termination of the appointments of the undeserving candidates, Mamata Banerjee is facing a severe backlash from these appointees and their families.
They have started demanding that the large sums of money they paid to Trinamool leaders be repaid to them with interest. Many have started demanding that if the leaders they paid the bribes to are under arrest, they should be repaid from the party coffers.
That’s why Mamata Banerjee publicly pleaded Tuesday (March 14) that the thousands who have got their jobs by paying bribes be allowed to continue. She said that those who stand to lose their jobs face an uncertain future and some have even committed suicide. She said they should be given a “second chance” (read ).
Though the Trinamool has been desperate to shield the party leadership--Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek --from this scam, the efforts have not really succeeded.
That’s because few believe that Mamata Banerjee knew nothing of what was going on under her nose. She is known to keep tabs on everything that happens in Bengal, and there is no way she could have not known about the scams.
Also, most people do not believe that only some Trinamool leaders benefitted from the scams; it is widely perceived that the loot was shared by many others in the party and a substantial part of the loot could also have gone to the party’s coffers.
The other scams--the ponzi scam, the cattle smuggling scam, the illegal coal mining scam, just to name a few--have also caused a lot of damage to the party’s image.
The chief minister’s nephew, Abhishek, and his wife and in-laws are being investigated in the illegal coal mining scam while her trusted lieutenant and party strongman Anubrata Mondal is lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail for masterminding the cattle smuggling scam.
Irregularities in implementation of central government projects and schemes:
Huge irregularities had surfaced in many central schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, the PM Awas Yojana, projects under Swachh Bharat Mission and the PM Gram Sadak Yojana.
In the employment guarantee scheme, lakhs of fake job cards were created by functionaries of Trinamool-run gram panchayats and other bodies and the funds siphoned off.
Similarly, undeserving people--mostly Trinamool functionaries, their relatives and party workers and supporters--were fraudulently included in the list of beneficiaries of PM Awas Yojana.
Similarly, projects under the PM Gram Sadak Yojana got mired in numerous irregularities and largescale corruption.
All this led to the Union Government holding up disbursal of more funds for implementation of these projects and schemes in Bengal. This has led to such welfare projects with the rural poor being the targeted beneficiaries, grinding to a halt, thus triggering disenchantment among the masses.
Mamata Banerjee’s attempts to blame the Union Government for withholding funds has not cut much ice because most people in the rural areas know how Trinamool functionaries siphoned off money and took unfair advantage of these schemes.
Non-payment of DA at Central Government rates:
The Bengal government had, till last week, been paying a measly dearness allowance of 3 per cent of basic pay to its employees. This is a small fraction of what the Central Government pays to its employees and what has been recommended by successive pay commissions.
After a lot of protests and agitations, Mamata Banerjee agreed to increase DA by another three percent. But even that is very low compared to the average 34 per cent (of basic pay) DA that government employees in all other states get.
Banerjee told disgruntled state employees that she would not be able to pay any more DA to them, and if they remained unsatisfied, they could seek central government jobs. That triggered a lot of furore and resentment.
Mamata Banerjee’s senior colleagues have also told state employees that it will not be possible to pay any more DA to them. Senior Minister Firad Hakim said that the cash-strapped Bengal government’s priority is to help the poor instead of giving more to the middle-class. Such comments have bred a lot of anger.
State government employees form a significant chunk of the state’s electorate and also form a vital part of the election machinery. Disenchantment among them can affect the Trinamool’s performance in the forthcoming polls, especially the rural polls due in May this year.
Concern over erosion of support of Muslims and possible Left-Congress alliance:
After its in the bypoll to the Muslim-majority Sagardighi Assembly seat in Murshidabad district, the Trinamool leadership is worried.
The Congress won the seat, considered to be a Trinamool stronghold, by a decisive margin earlier this month. Muslims form over 66 per cent of the population of this Assembly seat.
The Trinamool’s internal analysis shows that a large majority of Muslims did not vote for the Trinamool candidate in Sagardighi.
The analysis also revealed the disturbing fact that Bengali-speaking Muslims are getting disenchanted with the Trinamool because of the state government’s many failures and misgovernance.
Muslims, fears the Trinamool, may shift support to the Left-Congress alliance, just as the community had done in Sagardighi.
The Trinamool knows that as long as the Left and the Congress fight elections separately and the BJP remains the primary opposition, Muslims will vote strategically for the Trinamool to defeat the BJP.
But a strong Left-Congress alliance can pull Muslim votes and can pose a stiff challenge to the Trinamool.
Banerjee's default reaction to the loss of her crucial Muslim support base would be to announce more sops for the minorities. But that will trigger Hindu consolidation in favour of the BJP. That’s why Banerjee is faced with a tough dilemma now.
These factors have caused a lot of worry within the Trinamool leadership. Panchayat polls are due in May and if the Trinamool loses in even a few districts, it will provide a momentum to the opposition, primarily the BJP, in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
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