Prime Minister Narendra Modi with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the 125th birth anniversary celebration of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, at Victoria Memorial in Kolkata on January 23.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the 125th birth anniversary celebration of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, at Victoria Memorial in Kolkata on January 23.
PTI / Ashok Bhaumik

The battle for West Bengal is entering a crucial phase. With assembly elections due in the next couple of months, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and head of the Trinamool Congress, seems to be losing her grip on both the government and her party. Last week, another minister quit the government, the third in as many weeks. Forest Minister Rajib Banerjee emailed his resignation to the CM while personally handing over a copy to Governor Jagdeep Dhankar.

Earlier, Transport Minister Suvendu Adhikari and Minister of State for Sports Laxmi Ratan Shukla had resigned from the government and the party. Banerjee was unhappy with the CM ever since he was removed from the irrigation ministry and given the relatively less important forest ministry. Though he did not indicate whether he was following Adhikari into the BJP, it is widely expected that soon he too will join the saffron party.

Interestingly, after its efforts to persuade Banerjee from leaving the party failed, the TMC sought to make the best of a bad situation, arguing his leaving would have no impact on the fortunes of the party. A clueless party leadership is hard put to stem the exodus from its ranks. On the same day the forest minister quit, the party expelled a prominent legislator. Baishali Dalmiya, MLA from Bally in Howrah district and the daughter of the late cricket administrator Jagmohan Dalmiya, had publicly made common cause with Banerjee, saying his quitting was a great loss to the TMC.

Meanwhile, the Centre and the State Government were engaged in public recriminations on who best has a better claim over the legacy of Subhas Chandra Bose. A war of words between the two over celebrating the 125th birthday of Bose, which fell on January 23rd, and how to mark the day has broken out. The Centre has decided to celebrate the day as ‘Parakram Diwas’, whereas the State Government wants to call it ‘Desh Nayak Divas’ and wants it to be declared an annual holiday. Ahead of the poll, there will be a bitter fight to claim the legacy of the revolutionary freedom fighter, whose memory is still cherished by all Bengalis cutting across all manner of socio-economic differences.

In the meanwhile, it appears that Mamata Banerjee’s outsourcing of election strategy to Prashant Kishor’s agency has created more problems than it may have resolved for her. Several sitting legislators and even ministers have felt threatened by the intrusive approach of Kishor’s on-the-ground researchers and opinion assessors, generating resentment and anger among grassroots leaders. Yet, Mamata Banerjee has cut herself off from the hardcore base to the extent that she has ears only for Kishor and her controversial nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, MP from Diamond Harbour, who is virtually the number two in the party. Small wonder there is an unstoppable traffic from the TMC towards the BJP.

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