SEEMA MUSTAFA | 2 SEPTEMBER, 2014

Mamta Banerjee paints herself into a corner

Serious or Desperate?


NEW DELHI: Is she serious? Sincere? Or just desperate? West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s indirect offer to the Left for a possible alliance against communal forces ---"If such a situation arose in Bengal, we will think over. I still think nobody is untouchable. We had tie-up with SUCI once. We also had tie-up with some other smaller parties. If anybody comes forward, we can talk. In a democracy, nobody should shut the door for talks. No option should be closed’---has few takers.

CPM general secretary Prakash Karat told The Citizen that there was no question of any such alliance. “She is not serious at all, she does not mean what she says,” he said. Karat was clear that the West Bengal chief minister had helped strengthened the BJP and was worried now because discontent against her in the state was growing.

Even as the Left used strong words to trash her ‘offer’, her Trinamool Congress MP Sugata Bose virtually reiterated it in an interview to the Times of India, “She (Mamata Banerjee) made a general point. In contesting the BJP and its more extreme elements, there could be an understanding with us and those parties, which believe in Hindu Muslim unity and the Indian version of secularism. Don't think she necessarily meant an electoral alliance. Trinamool is open to an understanding with all parties who believe in fellow feeling between different communities. We cannot leave religion to religious bigots. I'm bred in the secular tradition but we have to engage with religion. Religion is not the enemy of the nation, there's nothing wrong with faith. Its religious bigots and religious majoritarianism of the BJP which we oppose.”

The Lalu Prasad Yadav-Nitish Kumar alliance in Bihar has brought many of the regional parties under pressure to coalesce against the growth of the BJP. Both Left and TMC leaders are agreed that the BJP has gained considerable ground in West Bengal. And that the party has expanded its reach amongst the Hindi speaking population of the state, amongst the Hindu refugees from Bangladesh and even amongst the Left voting Muslims, for instance in the South 24 Parganas where they have turned to the BJP for security against TMC goons who have been threatening and attacking them. Interestingly one of the first BJP central teams to visit West Bengal was to these districts to welcome Muslims on board.

Left leaders and independent analysts in West Bengal, however, are of the view that Mamata Banerjee’s offer for an alliance is born out of desperation. And zero in on three reasons for her willingness to entertain such an offer, or at least to discuss it, when till date she never let an opportunity pass to declare her dislike and hate for the CPM.

One, is the CBI enquiry into the Saradha Chit fund scam that is reported to be closing in on her government. Banerjee has been braving it out by saying that this was a “malicious campaign” and the real culprits were “being shielded” but reports suggest that she is worried as the probe has taken a serious turn.

Two, is the growth of the BJP in the state that is worrying the TMC. The party’s growth that was expected by gaining over the Left voters through an overt carrot and stick policy, has been stunted as a result and Banerjee is worried about the rapidly sinking ground.

And three, the discontent against her is growing and the TMC workers have started feeling this on the ground.

The Left has, as expected, refused to entertain her with former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee saying “there will be no talks with them. We will face them on the streets.” The Left has faced violent attacks from the TMC “goons” after the Assembly elections in 2011 with 156 members killed, over 6000 injured, and a 116 women raped. This was part of Banerjee’s policy to silence the Left cadres, and get the support of the voters through coercion if necessary. It has worked to the extent that the CPM cadres are demoralised and the BJP growth in West Bengal is being met with little resistance.

Banerjee is also accused, not just by the BJP but also the Congress and the Left parties in the state, of pandering to minorities without doing anything for their uplift. For instance salaries are now being paid to Imams for the first time, and this has been used by the BJP to polarise and consolidate votes in the areas of its influence in West Bengal. As a Left leader said, this does not do anything for the poor sections of the Muslim, it just attracts the wrong attention and makes them the target of the communal parties.”

Banerjee has clearly lost all her friends. She cannot embrace the BJP because of the minority and progressive vote in West Bengal. The Congress party does not trust her with a senior leader here maintaining that “she is certainly not high on our list of friends and possible allies.” The Left that has borne the brunt of her attack is definitely not going to sit on the same table as the TMC which leaves are pretty much on her own.

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