West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee added fuel to the already-charged political atmosphere in the state by accusing the Election Commission of taking orders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
Daring the Election Commission (EC) to act against her, Mamata Banerjee said Wednesday night that she doesn’t care even if she is served “50 such notices”.
Defiance & campaign
In her attempt to mobilise support against the BJP, Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee, the quintessential street-fighter, has reportedly urged people to take to streets Thursday to protest against the ‘discriminatory’ orders from the EC.
The EC has curtailed the poll campaigning in the last phase of elections in Bengal by almost a day. The campaigning would end on Thursday 10 pm instead of Friday.
In the limited time, Mamata Banerjee would now try to drum up the Bengali sentiment against ‘outsiders’ in the remaining constituencies that vote on 19 May.
The ‘outsider’ BJP
To counter what she calls the ‘BJP-EC nexus’, Mamata has resorted to playing up the parochial Bengali sentiment against ‘outsiders’.
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By trying to paint the BJP as a political party of ‘outsiders’, Mamata’s TMC claimed that the BJP was importing ‘outsiders from other states’ and was responsible for the violence and vandalism that occurred during and after Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata Tuesday.
She slammed the BJP over vandalisation of educationist and social reformer Vidyasagar’s statue and accused the party of trying to ‘destroy Bengal’s culture’.
Odd one out?
Mamata Banerjee may have a valid point this election.
West Bengal is perhaps the only major non-BJP state where the BJP is aggressively confronting the strong regional party at every step during the campaign.
Other than Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha constituencies, West Bengal and Bihar are the only states to witness a seven-phased election this time. The number of central forces’ units deployed in the state is unprecedented.
Many political commentators point out that Mamata and her party have been singled out and various impediments have been put in their campaign path because she has taken on Narendra Modi and Amit Shah directly in a vocal and aggressive way.
Why Mamata is angry
It is a well-known fact, but no one will admit it, that Mamata Banerjee has made the police and the civil administration toe her line unquestioningly.
What has angered Mamata is the removal of two of her trusted officials, home secretary Atri Bhattacharya and additional director-general CID Rajiv Kumar, from their posts on the eve of the last phase of polling in Bengal.
Home secretary Bhattacharya’s recent letter to the state chief electoral officer complaining about the alleged ‘excesses’ by the central forces during polling was viewed as a gross misconduct by the EC.
Once the election process kicks off, the state administration (including secretaries and state police officers) comes under the ambit of the EC. The contesting political parties can definitely lodge complaints with the EC, but not government officials. By writing a protest letter to the EC, the home secretary violated the norm.
Rajiv Kumar has been under the EC’s radar for quite some time now. In 2016, he was removed from the Kolkata police commissioner’s post before the state assembly election by the EC. But immediately after the election was over, he was reinstated by the chief minister.
Early this year, when CBI officers went to Rajiv Kumar’s official residence to question him in connection with the Saradha scam, Kolkata Police officers stopped them. Soon, Mamata Banerjee also rushed to Kumar’s residence. The same night, Rajiv Kumar and other senior Kolkata Police officers joined Mamata in her ‘dharna’ (sit-in demonstration) in the city.
While Mamata did not say much on home secretary’s removal, she was particularly caustic about Rajiv Kumar’s. She was quoted by media reports as saying: “Why is the Centre so against Rajiv Kumar? Because he has evidence against Mukul Roy and Himanta Biswa Sarma who are direct beneficiaries of Saradha?”
Is there precedence?
Given the charged atmosphere in Bengal, even a routine decision by the EC to review the preparedness for the last phase has assumed immense significance.
Although Mamata has called the EC’s actions ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘unprecedented’, there is a precedence of removing top government officials in the middle of elections. During the Mizoram assembly election last year, the EC removed L. Chuaungo, principal secretary (home), on almost similar ground.
Impact on seats
But the moot point is: how far will these developments impact the last phase of polls and who is going to benefit from them?
Polling will be held in the remaining nine constituencies –North Kolkata, South Kolkata, Dum Dum, Basirhat, Barasat, Jadavpur, Joynagar, Diamond Harbour and Mathurapur. Barring North and South Kolkata, which are urban constituencies, Jadavpur, Dum Dum and Barasat have a mix of urban and rural population, and the rest are predominantly rural seats.
Appeal in the name of Vidyasagar won’t have much effect in the rural areas. Even in North Kolkata, where vandalism took place, it would be very difficult to convince voters about the ‘outsider’ narrative as many of them are non-Bengali. It may still work to an extent in South Kolkata, and some parts of Jadavpur, Dum Dum and Barasat.
The battle lines have been drawn in Bengal and neither the BJP nor the TMC is showing any signs of fatigue.
The author is a journalist and political analyst. Views are personal.
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