The ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal is trying to whip up emotion against central ‘discrimination’ by deciding to take the tussle between the Centre and the state over non-payment of GST dues to the streets.
The calculated move aims to achieve multiple goals ahead of the assembly elections in the state where Centre-state relations often become an emotive political issue with the state projected as the victim.
The Centre owes ₹4,135 crore to the state on account of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) compensation. Citing revenue shortfall, the Union finance ministry has expressed its inability to pay the amount, unwittingly handing over to the state’s beleaguered ruling Trinamool Congress a political whip to flog the Centre with.
The TMC has quickly lapped up the opportunity, announcing statewide protests against the Centre’s “step-motherly” attitude on September 8 and 14. The party will also hit the streets on September 20 to protest privatisation of public undertakings.
TMC secretary general and the state’s education minister Partha Chatterjee, announcing the schedules of the agitations, said the state could not be deprived of its dues.
He said the people of the state would not allow this deprivation by the BJP-ruled Union government to go on. “With the people’s support, we will launch the agitation to ensure that the state cannot be neglected anymore.”
Apart from the GST compensation, the state government has been pursuing the Centre to release its outstanding dues of ₹53,000 crore, without much success.
The Centre is also accused of not providing adequate financial help to the state to rebuild affected areas in the wake of large scale destruction caused by Cyclone Amphan.
The state government has pegged the cyclone damages at ₹1,02,442 lakh crore. But, so far, it has claimed to have received only ₹1,000 crore from the Centre to cope with one of the biggest natural calamities to ever hit the state.
The ruling TMC naturally views this “neglect” as a political opportunity to use against the BJP-led central government, playing the “victim card” which is often being used by the state’s ruling dispensations against the Centre to cover up their own shortcomings.
In the late 80s, the erstwhile Left Front government headed by Jyoti Basu had taken the centre-state wrangling to a new theatrical height promising to build 840 MW Bakreshwar thermal power project with people’s blood after failing to secure central assistance.
The ruling CPI(M)’s youth cadres organised blood donation camps across the state to raise funds for the ₹2,300-crore project, which was ultimately commissioned in 1999 not with sale proceeds from blood but a loan from a Japanese funding agency.
The anti-Centre campaign around the project, however, gave the Left Front government enough political mileage as the then Congress government at the Centre even went to the extent of denying Doordarshan permission to telecast an appeal by Basu to raise donation from the public for the project.
The TMC is also hoping to gain similar political mileage by taking the issue of Centre’s alleged discrimination to the people.
The BJP, however, is confident that the people would not be influenced by the TMC’s political plank.
The party’s West Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya said it was not proper to use the Centre-state communication for political purposes.
Referring to a recent letter Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the GST issue, which has been made public, Vijayvargiya said the exchange of such communications between the Centre and the states were common, but one should not indulge in politics over it. “People will not be influenced by such acts,” he added.
The BJP too is regularly hitting the streets over various issues including the state government’s alleged mishandling of the dual crisis of COVID-19 and Cyclone Amphan and the lack of democratic environment in the state.
The state’s two other main opposition parties — the CPI (M) and the Congress — too are vocal against the government over the same issues raised by the BJP.
With its proposed anti-Centre stir, the TMC now hopes to deflect criticism of the government and also forced the Congress and the CPI(M) to join the chorus against the BJP over the Centre’s alleged neglect of the state.
“We have always been raising our voice against Centre’s discrimination and we will continue to do so,” CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty told local media.