Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s sudden apparent change in tone towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi has created a buzz in political corridors, with the leader of opposition in the state assembly Suvendu Adhikari telling reporters Monday that the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief was trying to “please” the PM.
Banerjee, while addressing the West Bengal Legislative Assembly Monday, had said, “Every day, leaders of opposition parties are threatened by BJP leaders with arrest by CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) and ED (Enforcement Directorate). Should the agencies function this way? I don’t believe Prime Minister Narendra Modi is behind this, but some BJP leaders are misusing the CBI and ED for their interest.”
The West Bengal CM’s statement came on a day the state became the first to pass a resolution in the Vidhan Sabha against the alleged “excesses” of federal agencies like the CBI and ED, with 189 MLAs voting in its favour.
Sixty-four Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs opposed the resolution which claimed that these agencies were being “politically misused” by the BJP.
Trinamool members ThePrint spoke to chose not to read too deeply into Banerjee’s exemption of Modi while mounting an attack on the alleged misuse of the central agencies.
“Mamata Banerjee expressed her views. We cannot interpret that. We raised our voice against the politicisation of these agencies. She spoke about the entire BJP misusing the agencies,” said TMC chief whip Nirmal Ghosh, who had moved Monday’s resolution in the assembly.
Party MLA Tapas Roy told ThePrint that Mamata may have abstained from criticising the PM Monday as it was just a day after the PM’s birthday. Modi turned 72 Sunday.
“The agencies (CBI & ED) are under Amit Shah (Union Home Minister) and there is no doubt that it’s being misused by the BJP. Leaders from the BJP are threatening the opposition with CBI, ED action. But today, if you ask me to give a statement about the prime minister, it will still be fierce and there has been no change in our stand,” said Roy.
The BJP has meanwhile seen in Banerjee’s comment an alleged attempt by Mamata to ingratiate herself with the PM.
“Such resolutions are against the rules and regulations of the assembly. Earlier resolution against the BSF (Border Security Force) jurisdiction has also not yielded anything. She is only trying to please the PM,” said Adhikari.
The Trinamool is no stranger to CBI and ED action against its members — from CBI probe into alleged TMC involvement in post-poll violence reported after the declaration of last year’s assembly elections (which the BJP lost to the TMC), to investigations into alleged scams involving TMC leaders and West Bengal ministers.
CM Mamata Banerjee and PM Modi, too, have often exchanged barbs in the past. If Modi’s “Didi-o-Didi” dig directed at the West Bengal CM during the high voltage 2021 West Bengal election campaigns drew the Trinamool’s ire, Banerjee had at the time branded Modi a “liar”.
“Modi is a liar… PM is a liar”, the CM had said while addressing a gathering in the run-up to the elections, before amending her statement and saying, “Liar is an unparliamentary word. The Prime Minister is misleading the people.”
The West Bengal CM’s generous exemption of Modi from the criticism directed at the BJP Monday by her has, therefore, raised eyebrows, with rival parties like the CPI(M) and Congress calling her out.
“She follows the divide and rule strategy when it comes to the opposition,” said political analyst and professor of political science at the Rabindra Bharati University, Biswanath Chakraborty, calling it a long-standing strategy followed by Banerjee.
“She will say [former PM and BJP leader Atal Bihari] Vajpayee is good and [former Union home minister and BJP leader L.K.] Advani is bad. She will say Advani is good and Modi is bad and now she’s saying Modi is good and Amit Shah is bad. But this is an attempt to find an exit route; I feel this will hurt minority votes because of her praise for the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] and the PM,” added Chakraborty.
During a media address earlier this month, Banerjee had said, “Some people intimidate media houses using RSS names. RSS was not this bad earlier, and I believe, they are not bad now. There are many good people in the RSS. They do not support the BJP’s misdeeds. One day they will come forward and speak against them [BJP].”
‘Less politics, more personal posturing’
The Trinamool Congress has been on a backfoot over the past few months over corruption allegations involving party leaders.
In July, the ED arrested (former) West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee in a case of alleged irregularities in the recruitment of Group C, Group D, assistant teachers, and primary teachers in West Bengal government-run schools. Till date, the ED has made total attachments/seizures amounting to Rs 103.10 crore in the case.
The following month, the CBI arrested TMC’s Birbhum district president Anubrata Mondal in a case of alleged cross-border cattle smuggling.
“Mamata Banerjee is trying to get the PM’s sympathy by saying BJP leaders are triggering ED and CBI action. But there’s no point as the PM has taken a tough stand against corruption and has a zero-tolerance policy in place as well,” BJP MLA and chief whip Manoj Tigga told ThePrint.
Rival party leaders, too, called out Banerjee for Monday’s comment.
“On one hand, Mamata Banerjee is appeasing BJP leaders and then she is showing that she is fighting the party politically. TMC is a natural ally of the BJP and, no one wants to believe, but an offshoot of the RSS,” said CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty.
Meanwhile, Congress MP and West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury called the Trinamool the weakest link in the opposition against the BJP and said: “There is a tacit understanding between the BJP and TMC and now it is out in the open”.
Relations between the TMC-led West Bengal government and the Modi government at the Centre had hit a new low in May 2021, when Banerjee and then state chief secretary (CS) Alapan Bandyopadhyay skipped a review meeting chaired by PM Modi in the aftermath of cyclone Yaas.
The CM and CS who were themselves touring districts to assess the damage, handed over a file to the PM and exited the meeting where then Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and BJP’s Adhikari were present.
The same month, Bandyopadhyay, who had been given a three-month extension, opted to retire from the post of CS and was appointed chief advisor to the CM, after he was asked by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to report to Delhi to be placed into service with the Union government.
Commenting on the incident, the West Bengal CM had said Bandyopadhyay was an example of “how a bureaucrat has been victimised”.
In May this year, Banerjee wrote to PM Modi against the Centre’s alleged delay in releasing funds allocated to the state under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the PM Awas Yojana schemes, seeking his intervention in the matter.
Her government has also written to the Prime Minister’s Office regarding GST dues, and Mamata herself raised before the PM the issue of Rs 27,000 crore pending in GST dues during a NITI Aayog meeting in August.
Referring to the West Bengal CM’s Monday comment, political analyst and author of Gangster State: The Rise and Fall of the CPI(M) in West Bengal, Sourjya Bhowmick said, “It seems less politics and more personal posturing aimed at reducing agency heat. She implied the PM is good, but Home Minister Amit Shah and the state BJP are bad.”
Bhowmick added: “We have observed that coincidentally whenever there is agency heat, Mamata goes to Delhi. She may say those meetings are about state finances, but the opposition’s theory of a ‘setting’ (between Mamata and Modi) is slowly getting credence among the people. She understands that and thus in recent public meetings, speeches we saw her defending her meetings with Modi, and now this could be a move to draw Modi’s attention.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)