Rajat Sharma

The challenges that Mamata Banerjee is now facing

akb fullWest Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has renewed her pitch for a joint platform of all non-BJP opposition parties by writing letters to all non-NDA chief ministers and senior opposition leaders. In her letter, she has suggested a conclave of all opposition leaders to stop what she alleged as “misuse of Central agencies with the sole intention of suppressing opposition leaders”. She has also alleged that there have been attempts “to influence a certain section of judiciary”.

In her letter, the Trinamool Congress supremo, whose nephew Abhishek Banerjee is facing Enforcement Directorate’s action on money laundering charges, wrote that she cannot “tolerate the vindictive politics of BJP that has led to a witch-hunt”. She appealed to all “progressive forces” including Congress to join in the united fight against what she called “oppressive BJP regime”.

Mamata Banerjee wrote, “Central agencies are jolted to action just when elections are round the corner. It is amply clear that BJP-ruled states get a free pass from these agencies to paint a rosy picture of their hollow governance.. Central agencies like ED,CBI, Central Vigilance Commission and Income Tax department are being used to target, harass and corner political opponents across the country for vendetta. ..This is nothing but direct attack on the country’s institutional democracy.”

BJP spokesman Sambit Patra described this as Mamata Banerjee’s ploy to divert attention from the ongoing CBI probe into the horrific carnage in Birbhum where nine people were charred to death. He said, “the death of nine people in an intra-party fight has brought out lawlessness that is now rampant in West Bengal and Mamata Banerjee is seeking to deflect attention from open patronage that is being given to criminals by her party leaders”.

On her part, Mamata Banerjee alleged on Monday that “there is a conspiracy behind the Birbhum killings, it was a good decision to hand over the probe to CBI, but if CBI follows the diktat of BJP, then we will come out on the streets to protest”. About the killings, Mamata Banerjee said, “A Trinamool worker was killed by another Trinamool worker, but only Trinamool Congress is being criticized everywhere.”

Mamata’s words do not match what her own party leaders are saying. On Tuesday, a video went viral on social media in which her party MLA from Pandabeshwar, Narendra Nath Chakraborty, asked BJP supporters “to vote at their own risk” in the April 12 Asansol Lok Sabha byelection. In the video, Chakraborty is heard saying, “We need 40 more votes from each vote to win the election. Let people vote, but tell the BJP supporters, if they vote, we will take them as having voted for BJP. Tell them they will be at their own risk after the election, but if they stay at home, do their business and go to work at their jobs, they can live in peace”, the TMC MLA said.

This is not an allegation. The MLA called a press conference to give this threat, in front of cameras. You might wonder why the MLA is giving threats, now that assembly elections in Bengal are over and TMC has retained power? Voters of Asansol are due to go to polls on April 12 for the byelection, because the Asansol LS seat has been vacated by Babul Supriyo after he resigned from BJP to join TMC. Supriyo is now contesting for assembly from Kolkata’s Ballygunge seat on TMC ticket, while Mamata Banerjee has made film star Shatrughan Sinha her party candidate from Asansol.

Babul Supriyo had won the Asansol LS seat twice, once in 2014 and then in 2019. Last time, he had won by a huge margin of 1,90,000 votes on BJP ticket by defeating the TMC rival. Asansol is considered a BJP stronghold where the party has a strong base of supporters. This time, Mamata Banerjee wants to win this seat by all means, and hence, this open threat from her party MLA. On Tuesday, a delegation of BJP MPs from Bengal went to Election Commission to lodge complaint against TMC for giving threats to voters. The delegation wanted the EC to take strong action against the TMC MLA.

Let me explain the background about this TMC MLA. Narendra Nath Chakraborty was caught in 2016 at Kolkata International Airport while carrying an unlicensed loaded gun. He was arrested under Arms Act. Chakraborty is considered a strongman in his area, and people fear him.

On Tuesday, BJP MP Rupa Ganguly disclosed that Mamata Banerjee does not even trust her own party workers, and her leaders have started ‘thappa’ culture during elections, in which leaders cast votes on behalf of their supporters, because they do not trust them.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar, in a letter to Mamata Banerjee, has summoned her for a meeting in Raj Bhavan to discuss the Birbhum killings and other incidents of violence. He pointed out that the Birbhum probe was being done by CBI on the directives of Calcutta High Court, and it was not proper for a chief minister to threaten street protests against the probe.

Mamata’s agony does not end here. Enforcement Directorate on Tuesday indicated that it could take action against Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee in the money laundering case, for not appearing despite summons. Abhishek and his wife Rujira are co-accused in the money laundering case, as some transactions have been found in the money trail, which require both to appear for questioning. The couple had pleaded before Delhi High Court to direct ED to question them in their Kolkata office, instead of in Delhi, but the High Court rejected their plea on March 11. Both of them have now moved the Supreme Court to quash the Delhi HC order.

Abhishek was questioned for eight hours on March 21 and he was issued summons for a third round of questioning. His wife Rujira did not appear for both the rounds of questioning. There are reports that the ED is waiting for SC verdict, before it may take action against both “for not cooperating” in the investigation.

The Rs 1300 crore coal mining scam involves its lynchpin Benoy Mishra, against whom a CBI special court in Asansol has issued non-bailable warrant on March 17. The kingpin of this scam is reported to be hiding in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. In December, 2021, Benoy Mishra surrendered his Indian passport in the embassy in Dubai, saying that he has acquired the citizenship of Vanuatu. CBI has initiated an Interpol move for his extradition.

CBI sources say, a large portion of ill-gotten money from this coal mining scam has reached some powerful politicians in Bengal. Benoy Mishra was close to Mamata’s nephew, and his brother Vikas Mishra is now in custody. Sources say, Abhishek Banerjee is evading ED summons fearing his arrest.

It is in this background that Mamata Banerjee has sent letters to all non-NDA ministers and senior opposition leaders. Only Sharad Pawar has supported her appeal, while Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has also showed inclination to join the proposed opposition bloc. Other opposition parties are yet to react.

On Tuesday, Congress leader from Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “Mamata cannot be trusted. She has no credibility. Sometimes she wants to crush the Congress, and sometimes she seeks support from Congress. It is better for our party to keep distance from her”. Another Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil said, “Mamata forgets opposition unity when she fights elections, but harps on opposition unity, when she is in trouble.”

To sum up, Mamata is still facing troubles despite scoring a major victory in West Bengal assembly elections last year. On one hand, CBI is probing Birbhum killings, and on the other hand, ED is probing the role of her nephew in money laundering case. She is facing a third front from a pro-active governor Jagdeep Dhankar, who tries to keep her on leash. Her party leaders add to these troubles by making controversial statements. One TMC leader justifies killings and violence, while another TMC leader openly threatens BJP supporters.

Mamata Banerjee has the capability to face all these challenges, but, in the process, her plan to project herself as a national leader has been badly dented. After her historic victory last year, Mamata was being projected as a leader who could united opposition parties to mount a challenge to Prime Minister Modi. But now, it seems, Mamata would have to devote much of her time to her own troubles. At the same time, Aam Aadmi Party supremo Arvind Kejriwal, fresh from his landslide win in Punjab, is trying his best to project himself as a leader who can challenge the Modi.

Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar on Tuesday confirmed that he has received Mamata’s letter. He said, “we associate with the issue. We have yet to decide on the venue and date for the meeting, it may take place either in Delhi or Mumbai”. Odisha chief minister and Biju Janata Dal supremo Naveen Patnaik said, he has not received any such letter.

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