If the Centre dismisses the Trinamool Congress government it would help in giving the opposition parties a cause to unite against the BJP.
Unending brutalities in rural West Bengal after a rather bloody Lok Sabha polls have led to buzz as to whether denouement for the assembly polls scheduled for 2021 has begun rather early.
The current phase of tension started after the Mamata Banerjee-headed West Bengal government decided to curtail the Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory processions or ‘thank you’ rallies following the national party winning 18 Lok Sabha seats. Another point of contention between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress chief is the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans, where videos show crowds heckling Banerjee as her convoy passes.
The ongoing BJP-TMC tension has let at least four people dead — three from the BJP and one from the TMC. Unofficial reports quote a figure of 15 deaths since the May 23 results. The districts bordering Bangladesh, where the BJP has increased its presence over the years, are the trouble spots.
Amid demands for imposing central rule in West Bengal, West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi on Monday met and briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah about the situation.
BJP’s rise in Bengal
The Lok Sabha verdict, especially in West Bengal, is a setback for Banerjee and demolishes her pre-eminence as a big player in national politics. She finds herself bereft of any game plan to recover the lost ground and it appears that she is willing to allow violence go unchecked in order to intimidate her opponents.
The BJP not only won 18 seats but also won 40% of the popular vote. This is a 23 per cent increase from 2014. On the other hand though the TMC won 43 per cent of the popular vote, its seat share went down from 34 in 2014 to 22 in 2019.
As the BJP prepares for the 2021 assembly polls, there is an overall rumbling within the TMC and Banerjee’s reactions could be after sensing the possibility of more desertions from the TMC’s rank and file. Any dissenter has to be dis-incentivised or terrified into not switching political sides and that could explain this unabated violence. In fact, many of the victims of the latest round of clashes are largely ex-TMC cadre who switched to the BJP before the Lok Sabha polls.
A trap for the Centre
Some senior leaders in the BJP are of the opinion that by letting violence go unabated Banerjee is setting a political trap and is hoping that the BJP-led central government walks into it by dismissing her government and imposing President’s Rule. Modi is unlikely to walk into it, though, such a move cannot be ruled out closer to the assembly polls in West Bengal.
Modi — a four-time Chief Minister who is currently in his second term as Prime Minister — will not give Banerjee the opportunity to play the victim card. Also, if the Centre dismisses the TMC government it would help in giving the opposition parties a cause to unite against the BJP.
As Mukul Roy, a former Banerjee loyalist who switched sides to the BJP and is seen as one of the architects of the BJP’s success in Bengal, put it, “the BJP will not allow Mamata Banerjee to play a martyr and win the sympathy of the people. The situation has reached such a state that the government will crumble on its own.”
Yet, Modi would definitely expect Shah to get strict with the state government to stop violence while, at the same time, ensuring that Banerjee does not gain political advantage or sympathy in the process.
New governor to tighten screw?
Governor Tripathi is due to retire on July 23 and the grapevine is that the Centre is considering someone like Puducherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi who will play a more pro-active role to assert the authority of the Centre.
If Banerjee continuously disregards the Centre’s directives, New Delhi could invoke Article 355 of the Constitution, which says: ‘It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’
Normally, any violation of Article 355 is read as opening up the possibility for invoking Article 356, which is dismissal of the state government and imposition of President’s Rule.
Ironically, during her years in the opposition, Banerjee demanded that Article 355 be invoked against the then Left Front state government when her party cadre were at the receiving end of Left violence. When she part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Banerjee demanded imposition of President’s Rule, but then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee refused to oblige.
Banerjee appears to have adopted the political style of the Left, which targeted TMC activists during its rule. Today, TMC leaders don’t mince their words when they threaten to strike terror in the minds of those leaning towards the BJP.
Does she fear the same fate that has befallen the Left after 34 years of similar strong-arm tactics?
The Lok Sabha results have put Banerjee and her TMC on notice. However, she has an opportunity for course correction—or is it too late now?Shekhar Iyer is former senior associate editor of Hindustan Times and political editor of Deccan Herald. Views are personal.