The more things change, the more they remain the same. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had earned her leadership spurs being at the frontline of protest barricades set up by an arrogant Marxist regime to squash all democratic Opposition. She was once at the receiving end of a near-murderous assault by Leftist hoods, in which a number of Youth Congress workers were killed in police firing. But now, several decades later, having seen off the threat of the Marxists, as Chief Minister herself, Mamata Banerjee virtually apes the same Marxists she had resisted the most while they were in power.
Use of excessive police force against rival political workers, a virtual carte-blanche to the ruling Trinamool Congress members to harass, intimidate and even beat up workers of the Opposition parties and generally make daily life miserable for those identifying themselves with the Opposition are routine in Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal. Not unlike the Marxists from whom she won power fighting their repression, she now has no qualms abusing her power to try and prolong her lien on power. With the Assembly election due early next year, the main challenger, BJP, has become a special target for obstruction and abuse by the ruling Trinamool Congress, being openly abetted by the state police.
Last Thursday’s attack on the motorcade of BJP President J P Nadda by the ruling party cadres in the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency of CM’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee was clearly pre-planned. Police were a mute spectator when Nadda’s car was hit by sharp stones and other projectiles and its windshield was cracked. The BJP president escaped unhurt only because his car had bulletproof glass. But his colleagues travelling in the motorcade in separate vehicles were not so fortunate.
In a way, what followed was even worse. The Chief Minister was so brazen, she called the attack a drama staged by the BJP itself. At a press conference, she mocked the BJP President, mimicking his name 'one Nadda, Fadda, Dadda … from Delhi…'. Thus, not only did she encourage the TMC cadres to undertake more such attacks on the leaders of the rival parties but signalled to police not to take note of the formal complaint filed by the BJP against the attack on its top leadership. Despite her attempt to dismiss the incident as self-staged, the Central government was quick to take stern note of the failure of police to provide protection to the motorcade of the BJP national president.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah sought a report from the state government. West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar blamed the state government for a failing law-and-order situation, cautioning the CM not to play with fire. This was not all. The Union Home Secretary summoned the state chief secretary and a senior police officer to Delhi, a directive disregarded on the orders of the CM. This led to further escalation between the Centre and the Trinamool Congress government.
On Saturday, the Home Ministry summoned three senior IPS officers responsible for the security of the BJP chief. They were asked to serve on Central deputation for their dereliction of duty last Thursday. The West Bengal Government was not consulted when the Centre transferred the three members of the all-India centrally-administered IPS cadre. The stand-off between the Centre and the state government is set to turn uglier as the Assembly election comes closer.
The TMC leader no doubt is a fighter, but she lacks the tact and administrative skills to maintain even an appearance of a marginal distance between her party cadres and the state government machinery. Under her, the local police and ruling party cadres virtually work in tandem, isolating supporters of rival parties for physical abuse. Political violence in the state is on the increase, with the BJP complaining of murder of a number of its supporters. Earlier the Congress and Left workers were targeted by the Trinamool Congress goons; of late, BJP supporters are the main target since the party is leaving no stone unturned to oust Mamata Banerjee from power in the coming poll. Confrontation is building up.