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Mamata’s Covid politics is benefiting Modi and West Bengal’s election isn’t that far

Mamata Banerjee’s Covid handling has dented her position. She has let the impulsive and election-driven politician in her, get the better of the leader she is.

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This is the Mamata Banerjee playbook. When in doubt, blame Narendra Modi’s BJP. So, when the coronavirus pandemic struck, she did the same. But her political game is getting exposed now, when she can least afford it – with West Bengal assembly election less than a year away.

The Covid-19 crisis has brought into focus the leadership and administrative abilities of chief ministers across the country, with several rising to the occasion to manage the pandemic’s fallout in a measured manner. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, however, has been an exception — combative, displaying a poor grip over governance, out of her depth, and mercurial as ever.

Also read: Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar says CM Mamata Banerjee running West Bengal like a police state

Covid-19 an opportunity for 2021

The assembly election due next year seems to have overwhelmed everything else for Banerjee, with shrill politics taking precedence over mature governance. The Covid-19 crisis for Mamata Banerjee has been characterised by a constant tug-of-war with Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Centre. The attempt to suppress data, unnecessary mavericks and rhetoric underscores her chief focus — 2021 state polls.

Thus, while CMs such as Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala, Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh, Amarinder Singh in Punjab, the BJP dispensation in Assam led from the front by Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, have displayed an impressive ability to tackle this unprecedented situation, Mamata Banerjee has been left far behind. Compare her track record with other chief ministers having a similar street-style politics and combative equation with the Centre  — Arvind Kejriwal — and you find a world of a difference, with the latter handling the crisis in a fairly measured, effective manner.

Some other chief ministers — particularly of the BJP like Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh — have handled the situation in a deeply disappointing manner. But even then, nobody has seemed quite as impulsive and aggressive as Mamata Banerjee.

Also read: Bengal ranks lowest among all major states on Covid tests, even lower than Bihar, Jharkhand

The corona politics

For Mamata Banerjee, the Covid-19 pandemic has become yet another political tool. Banerjee is looking at an election next year, and any politician’s instinct would be to act in a manner that would strengthen his/her bid to come back to power, especially after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls showed a BJP upsurge in the state, and how Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have their eyes set on Mamata’s turf.

But Mamata Banerjee’s entire conduct all this while has been about taking the Centre head on by blaming the Modi government for the health crisis. Early on in March, when the coronavirus spread was still in its initial stages, Mamata alleged that the BJP government was creating panic over the virus to divert attention from the Delhi communal riots.

For the chief minister of a state to downplay a serious health emergency in order to score political points was irresponsible and juvenile.

That, however, was just the start. Mamata, since then, has been engaged in a constant tussle with the Modi government, blaming supply of faulty kits from the Centre for the slow pace of testing and inconclusive results in West Bengal. Mamata has also blamed the Centre for a delay in imposing the lockdown and not shutting down airports early enough.

Also read: How Bengal’s Covid-19 toll went up nearly 4 times in 24 hours after Modi govt probe

Modi’s engaging Mamata

Of course, the Modi government has played its own politics, constantly shooting off letters to Mamata Banerjee and pulling up her government for poor handling of the crisis with the home ministry declaring it would send two Inter Ministerial Central Teams to seven locations in the state to assess the situation.

But Mamata is not the the only political adversary Modi has. Arvind Kejriwal has had a particularly unpleasant and troubled relationship with the Centre. Then, there are Congress CMs like Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel. But they seem to be working well towards battling the crisis, in tandem with the central government and with the spirit of ‘cooperative federalism‘. Something Modi has always talked about but which was never quite practiced.

Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress, on the other hand, have constantly escalated the political rhetoric. Add to it, the frequent run-ins with West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar.

There is, frankly, nothing new about Mamata Banerjee’s approach. This is how her politics has always been: confrontational, high-pitched, maverick and bold. Qualities that are indeed admirable in their impact, shown particularly in how she single-handedly managed to end an over three-decade-long Left front rule in West Bengal. Mamata can hold her own, even in front of Modi’s semantics and popularity. She has a distinct, no-holds-barred style. Someone who can even say she wants to give the PM a “slap of democracy” in the middle of a heated campaign.

But these are the very qualities that can become a politician’s enemy when on full display as an administrator, and no less in the middle of a crisis of epic proportion.

Also read: Let homes be mandir, masjid & gurdwara till Covid-19 is contained, says Mamata Banerjee

The handling of the pandemic

Mamata’s handling of the pandemic has been a big issue, besides her political approach to it. Her government has been accused of deliberately understating numbers, downplaying the crisis, making it seem like the TMC government is in full control of the health situation. The government stopped publishing its daily medical bulletin after 1 April, which used to include all relevant updates, leading to a backlash from the opposition. The bulletin was subsequently re-started but with an altered format and fewer details.

The numbers, meanwhile, had a big mismatch. For instance, a month ago on 3 April, Mamata said that the active cases in West Bengal for Covid-19 were 38, while the health ministry website showed the state had 63 confirmed cases.

As ThePrint reported late last month, West Bengal’s coronavirus death figures went up nearly four times in just 24 hours after the Centre launched a probe.

Mamata has also shown her ‘irresponsible’ side — taking to the streets to make a statement amid the pandemic, but without adhering to social distancing norms and violating the lockdown.

It is only recently that Mamata decided to mend her ways, perhaps getting some feedback about the discomfort of her voters with her handling of the crisis.

Mamata’s Covid strategy may be seeing a turnaround now, but her behaviour so far has failed to show the maturity that is expected of a leader of her stature, especially during a public health emergency.

If this is how she plans to counter Modi, she may not be on the right path. No voter wants to see histrionics amid a pandemic that everyone is afraid of. And besides, she has done a great disservice to her position as chief minister by letting the aggressive, impulsive and election-driven politician in her get the better of the leader she is.

Views are personal.

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  1. India becometh damn good or sufficiently worse at political one-upmanship, and unwarranted jingoism even in such dire and serious situations. When everyone had expected India to emerge and evolve strong and united, India disappointed the most. The states have been left to fend for themselves, funds have been withheld, migrant labour force was never more vulnerable than what it is as of now, communal instigations are on the rise and with impunity, minorities are deliberately targeted, stigmatized and ostracized and again with impunity, non state actors are writing the narrative on behalf of the government and the government is shamelessly silent, fear psychosis has been deliberately instilled in particular groups and communities on a targeted and selective basis in the backdrop of an undisclosed agenda, whereby these target groups are instigated on whatever silly pretexts ,to become aggressive and resort to stone pelting so that they can easily be demonized and framed as culprits, symbolism was deliberately allowed to take centre stage so that the battering image of the government could be salvaged and replenished. You see so much of humbug has been allowed within such a short span of time in India, that the world is simply flabbergasted and astonished, as to what actually is India upto. Barring coronavirus, India battled and fought everyone. And here we are witnessing and perusing this article that is attempting to put the blame squarely on Bengal’s chief minister.

  2. Any party come to power it must create new jobs by making new rules to attract national n international investers .The police must be free from political interference n take action against anti socials .The violence during n after elections have tarnished the image of west bengal.

  3. Mamata is in the same position the CPM was in 2011 when it had allotted land in Singur to the Tatas to set up an automobile factory. At that time she had confronted the CPM head on, siding with the “land losers” (even though they were paid good compensation) leading to its defeat. Despite 10 years as CM she failed to administer the State in a manner that united people within the State, nor manage relationships with the Centre in a mature fashion to the benefit of the State. To her, confrontation was the only valid response in every situation. Hindu Muslim relationships are at their worst after her brazen courting of regressive mullahs siding with Muslims in every conflict with Hindus. Like Lallu Yadav in Bihar and Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP, she believes her path to electoral victory lies in ensuring the unflinching support of Muslims. She thinks she can bank on the support of Hindus in villages to to an extent among the effete “bhadralok” of Kolkata. These calculations were rudely upset in the 2019 Lok Sabha election when the BJP won 18 seats and Mamata’s tally fell to 22 from 38. Her bungling in handling the Covid19 pandemic will cost her dearly in the 2021 Assembly election.

  4. Late Jyoti Basu always called her a 420. He was a Magus. A decade & half later people are realising it the hard way.

  5. Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, politicians like them are very important for Narendra Modi’s reelection in 2024. They show us who could be his possible successors. One look at them is enough to make up your mind.

  6. The state could consider using the services of Shri Sanjay Mitra, who served for a long time as Chief Secretary, before moving to the Centre and retiring as Defence Secretary. Someone who would shore up its response to the pandemic.

  7. Scientific temperament means writing a hypothesis and proving it or disproving it based on the facts and accepting the result honestly.
    That is what a smart politician does.
    Nitish Kumar and Kejriwal obviously had Scientific temperament to accept that it is not possible to fart against thunder, at least for now.
    Despite abusing Modi over three elections starting with calling him a DANGABABU, if his vote share is only growing, obviously the Einstien”s theory of status-coism is at work.( Do the same thing and expect different result)
    It is difficult to pin the blame on MODI for personal corruption and vested political interest to promote or enrich anyone with questionable merit.
    This gives him an advantage of riding over genuine administrative or policy miscalulations.
    For all the fire brand politics, the alleged enrichment by sale of pictures and success in business within family do not wash away easily.

  8. You shall know the population of Uttar Pradesh and the number of cases. Become journalist and not a not a biased congress woman.

  9. Mamta has failed big time….I am hearing things from friends in kolkata , stories are horrible…. reported cases and deaths are just tip of iceberg….that’s result of appeasement politics. Now she is blaming everyone for this…but it’s her failure as administrator. Absolutely pathetic state of affairs.

  10. As per the writer, only non congress state governments are doing well against covid. Karnataka, Goa, north east, uttaranchal, are all bjp ruled states doing well.
    Authors polotical bias is clearly showing. She has no compassion for people of Bengal. Her only worry is that Manata failure may benefit BJP.

  11. Can you name a state in INDIA where for majority there is NORTH KOREA type policies and for minority pakistan type policies.

  12. Mamata: (Quote) “combative, displaying a poor grip over governance, out of her depth, and mercurial as ever” (Unquote). Absolutely correct summing up. But, beyond all this, she has also been caught out in not only misrepresenting, under reporting and suppressing Coronavirus related statistics in WB, but also wrongly accusing the Center and the Governor of misdeeds they were never remotely connected with. She also tried her best to intimidate and bamboozle the team sent from the Center. Like Rahul, whose ONLY obsession, resulting in a constant state of rage and fury, is that HE, and NOT Modi, ought to have been the PM all the time, Mamata has the obsession that the BJP is poised to snatch away WB from her. That should make her determined to win. Unfortunately for her, t is ONLY making her furious.

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