There seems to be one-way traffic in West Bengal politics, towards the BJP. The ruling Trinamool Congress may be in denial but it cannot wish away the serious challenge the saffron party is mounting to dislodge it from power in next year’s Assembly poll. Ten years ago, Mamata Banerjee had the momentum behind her when to everyone’s surprise she managed to oust the Left Front from the Writers’ Building after it had ruled the state without a break for three decades.
Mercurial Mamata seems to have frittered away much of the goodwill, thanks to her inability to trust anyone with responsibility in the party organisation other than her nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, MP. Along with the mercenary election strategist Prashant Kishor, Abhishek has alienated a number of senior leaders of the party. One of the seniormost who parted company with Mamata, Suvendu Adhikari, a key minister who helped her turn the tide against the Marxists, spearheading protests in Nandigram and Singur, quit a few days ago.
Adhikari has now walked away with a number of TMC MLAs and at least one MP from the TMC. At a huge rally in Medinapur on Saturday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah welcomed Adhikari and a host of other senior TMC leaders into the BJP. Shah used the occasion to warn the chief minister that her days in power were numbered. He pointedly trashed the TMC propaganda that the BJP was an outsider in West Bengal, criticising her for being parochial-minded.
The chief campaigner of the BJP told the beleaguered chief minister that the BJP was determined to call her to account, no matter how she misuses the state machinery to attack and torment the party workers. Shah and other BJP leaders have accused the ruling party of unleashing a reign of terror against the BJP supporters. A number of BJP workers have died in recent weeks in attacks allegedly by the ruling party supporters.
In fact, a few days ago the motorcade of the BJP President J P Nadda was targeted by the ruling party supporters in the Lok Sabha constituency of Abhishek Banerjee. This has led to an administrative stand-off between the Centre and the State. Three IPS officers on deputation to West Bengal, who were in charge of Nadda’s security, were recalled by the Centre despite bitter resistance by the state government.
The exodus from the ruling party is set to grow further as the poll approaches, especially in view of the arbitrary vetting of sitting MLAs by Prashant Kishor’s data crunchers who are unacquainted with the local political contexts in individual constituencies.
With nothing positive to show for her decade in power, her only hope is the likely consolidation of the over 30 per cent Muslim vote behind the TMC, in case the BJP looks like a serious contender for power. However, this may not be an unalloyed boon for the TMC, since it has the potential to trigger a counter-consolidation of the majority against the ruling party.
A very fierce, no-holds-barred contest awaits West Bengal. Neither side will leave any stone unturned to vanquish the other, not a happy augury for a peaceful , orderly poll.