BJP must launch an intense and sustained offensive against Banerjee and ensure that she is made to pay for her acts of omission and commission.
The focus should also be on stemming the tide of growing Islamic fundamentalism in Bengal.
Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee is on the backfoot, and the time is just right for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to go for the jugular. Coming close on the heels of the outcome of the recent assembly polls that have dealt a deathly blow to Banerjee’s Third Front ambitions, the adverse judgement of the Calcutta High Court ordering a probe by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into a 2014 sting operation by Narada, a private news portal that exposed top Trinamool leaders, have come as a double whammy for her.
Banerjee is now running scared; her senior-most colleagues, who were caught accepting wads of cash in the sting video will surely be summoned by the CBI, and there can be little doubt that some of them will be arrested. As the High Court observed, prima facie evidence exists against the top Trinamool leaders and forensic experts have proclaimed that the Narada videos have not been doctored. Thus, the 11 top Trinamool leaders (who were caught on video accepting money) can be easily booked since they took cash with the assurance of extending favours to a Narada journalist, who posed as the representative of a fictitious company, which wanted to start operations in Bengal.
It is now incumbent on the Union government to not only give the CBI a free hand, but also encourage it, to probe the Narada operation thoroughly and build a watertight case against Trinamool leaders. The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) should also be encouraged to intensify their probes into the various chit fund scams in which many Trinamool leaders were closely involved. But then, while the arrest of her senior party colleagues on charges of corruption will act as significant setback for Banerjee, it may not seriously erode her popularity that stems from her clean and honest image.
In order to demolish that falsely-created image, and that illusory halo of honesty around her, it is imperative to get her family members who have amassed huge fortunes. It is well known that her brothers have acquired many benami properties and have benefitted a lot. Her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, who she is grooming as her successor, is also said to have made quite a fortune for himself. Thorough probes that need to be launched against them by investigative agencies will surely draw many skeletons out of their cupboards. When Banerjee’s family members are booked for corruption and loot, her image as an honest and upright person will automatically suffer a body blow.
At the same time, the BJP also needs to focus on Bengal. And the thinking in the party seems to be on these lines. BJP president Amit Shah will spend a few days in Bengal soon and interact closely with party men before framing a comprehensive action plan to take on the Trinamool politically. During his stay in Bengal, he’ll get to hear voices from the ground and the master political strategist that he is, Shah will surely frame a winning formula for Bengal.
The BJP has its task cut out for Bengal. While Shah’s impending visit to the state would boost the morale of the party cadres, it should be followed up by frequent visits to Bengal by top organisational leaders of the party as well as Union ministers. At the same time, the party has to strengthen itself organisationally. Apart from launching a massive membership drive, the party has to groom young men and women from within its ranks. To be honest, the BJP in Bengal lacks credible and charismatic faces and that is a lacunae that has to be filled soon.
The Trinamool and Banerjee may look well-entrenched in power right now and even seasoned political observers would laugh away the idea of the BJP posing a serious challenge to the Trinamool in the next Assembly elections in 2021. But it is quite possible to dislodge the Trinamool from power; four years is enough time for this mission. But to accomplish this, the BJP has to display a steadfast resolve.
On the heels of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when the BJP did quite well in Bengal, the party failed to maintain the momentum. It is widely believed that in order to secure Banerjee’s support to pass crucial bills in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP surrendered its interests in Bengal and entered into a compromise with her.
Now, with the massive wins in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the BJP’s strength in the Upper House is set to increase within the next few months. It will no longer need the support of Banerjee’s MPs in the Upper House. This is a prospect that Banerjee is very worried about since she will soon lose all her bargaining power; and the BJP has to take advantage of this. Thus, there will no longer be any need for the BJP to be wary of treading on Banerjee’s toes; the party can now drive a road-roller over her toes without any fear of adverse consequences!
Banerjee is a mercurial and whimsical person, who is given to extreme reactions, one who goes overboard and has no sense of proportion and propriety. These are her weaknesses. And the BJP should weave its strategy around these weaknesses of her. Banerjee can be easily provoked into doing something blatantly unconstitutional. And that can provide the opportunity to dismiss her government and impose President’s Rule in the state.
Conventional wisdom is that such a step could gain her a lot of sympathy; but that can be easily countered. A Mamata, whose senior-most colleagues as well as family members have been arrested on charges of corruption and amassing wealth illegally, would be a weak Mamata bereft of public sympathy. The formidable party machinery at her command will crumble, just as the CPI-M’s party machinery crumbled prior to the 2011 Assembly elections in the state that brought Banerjee to power. Her partymen are all opportunists who will have no hesitation in deserting her.
The BJP has to tap into the rising resentment among Hindus in the state, especially in rural and semi-urban Bengal, triggered by Banerjee’s shameless appeasement of minorities. The past couple of years have witnessed a gradual polarisation of Hindus in Bengal; this polarisation has been caused by growing fundamentalism among Muslims and their rising aggressiveness. The frequent attacks on temples and on Hindus in the state, the growing religious assertiveness of the Muslims, and the appeasement of Muslims by the state government to the extent of siding with that community against Hindus, has made Hindus angry and restive. This has to be leveraged by the BJP.
The time is thus ripe for the BJP to launch an intense and sustained offensive against Banerjee. It is high time she is made to pay for her acts of omission and commission. And it is high time the tide of growing Islamic fundamentalism in Bengal is stemmed and decisively reversed.