THREE WEEKS AFTER the Lok Sabha elections, West Bengal resembles a war zone. As many as 15 people have lost their lives in political violence across the state. Thousands have been injured and rendered homeless. Unlike in the past, however, a considerable number of victims also include Trinamool workers, with the BJP unrelenting in its retaliation. Moreover, the police is no longer reluctant to take action against Trinamool leaders accused of violence.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is all set to launch a tour across the state to boost the morale of her beleaguered comrades. “From now on, I will govern less and do party work more,” she said. It may not be an easy task as the Trinamool is increasingly losing control over the bureaucracy and the police. Several senior ministers reportedly complained to the chief minister that senior police officers and IAS officers were refusing to obey “orders”.
Mamata openly acknowledged the problem after an administrative review meeting on June 10. “It seems many officers are doing a balancing act. We need to tackle that,” she said. Senior BJP leader Mukul Roy said Mamata should have resigned before making such comments. “This means she has lost all control and has no right to be chief minister,” he said. Mamata’s concern is understandable as the bureaucracy and the security apparatus are increasingly refusing to toe the Trinamool line.
On June 9, Sandeshkhali block of Basirhat district witnessed an upsurge of violence as Trinamool and BJP workers exchanged gunfire. The BJP said two of its workers died on the spot and three were missing. “We believe that they were finished off,” said Sayantan Basu, state general secretary of the BJP, who lost from Basirhat in the Lok Sabha polls. The Trinamool said one of its workers was killed and two were missing.
The police lodged first information reports against BJP workers for the murder of Qayum Mollah of the Trinamool. Another FIR was filed against the local panchayat chief of the Trinamool, Shajahan Khan, for the murder of the two BJP workers, Sukanta Mondol and Pradip Mondol. This was in sharp contrast to the manner in which the police acted in the wake of rampant violence during last year’s panchayat elections. The BJP had then alleged that 80 of its workers were killed, but the Trinamool government rubbished it as fake statistics in its report to the Union home ministry.
Roy said the BJP would project Mamata as a “murderer” just as she did with her predecessor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. “She said Buddhadeb babu’s hands were stained with blood. Today her sari is stained with blood,” said Roy.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has asked his officials to take the situation seriously. His ministry has already sent a harshly-worded advisory to the state, asking for stringent action against “delinquent” officers. In an unprecedented move, West Bengal chief secretary Malay De, against whom a contempt petition is being heard in the Supreme Court for his participation in a political meeting against the CBI, wrote a carefully-worded reply to the Union home secretary. “I am directed to refer to your letter dated June 9, 2019, and to inform you that while there have been a few stray post-poll clashes in the state perpetrated by some anti-social elements, the law enforcement authorities have been taking firm and appropriate actions in all such cases without any delay.” De made it clear that he was writing the letter under the instructions of the chief minister. On several occasions in the past, the state administration had chosen not to respond to letters from Delhi about the “degrading law and order” situation.
Most political observers blame Mamata for mishandling the situation after the Lok Sabha elections. She herself took to the streets against the chanting of “Jai Shri Ram” by BJP workers, who were baiting her. On a few occasions, Mamata got out of her car and threatened people with dire consequences. Many of them were sent to jail. “There was no need of such an outburst. She spoiled the situation on her own,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP. “How can Mamata deny the fact that it was she who helped the BJP grow in Bengal.”
Mamata has also antagonised non-Bengali settlers by calling them outsiders, and threatening to throw them out whenever she wished. The move could help the BJP, which is on a high following the impressive performance in the Lok Sabha polls. It took control of two dozen panchayats in the last two weeks with support from members belonging to other parties. “There are more in the line,” said Roy. “Mamata will have horrific days ahead.”
As the Trinamool and the BJP continue their fight, Governor K.N. Tripathi met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah on June 10. He submitted a 43-page report to the home minister on the law and order situation in West Bengal. Back in 2017, Tripathi had called up Mamata demanding impartial action following riots in Basirhat. Mamata then said the governor was acting like a “BJP block president”. This time, Tripathi did not call up the chief minister; he sought information from the chief secretary and filed a critical report.
To defuse the crisis, Tripathi has invited representatives of the Trinamool, the BJP, the Congress and the CPI(M) for a meeting. All parties except the Trinamool have confirmed participation. Tripathi had earlier refused to rule out recommending president’s rule in the state. But, he was reportedly advised by Modi to manage the situation through consultation with all parties.
Arvind Menon, the state co-in-charge of the BJP, said his party had no plans to destabilise the government. He asked Mamata to take advice from people like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev instead of Prashant Kishor, who was roped in to manage the Trinamool’s 2021 campaign. “She needs remedies from these people as her mind got completely polluted,” he said.
Menon said the BJP would wait till 2021 when people would “dislodge” Mamata. “We may be patient, but she will not be,” he said. “The way Mamata is behaving, she will fall before the 2021 elections.”