Mamata Banerjee back in her street fighter role; takes on Modi government

Mamata Banerjee back in her street fighter role; takes on Modi government

West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is back doing what she does best when the chips are down – don the role of a street fighter.

She began a two-day sit-in demonstration in Kolkata from Wednesday noon (March 29) in protest against the Central government’s alleged discriminatory attitude towards her state.

The Centre has for long stopped releasing funds to the state for MGNREGA, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana among others for alleged violation of rules in the implementation of the schemes.

Also read: Mamata says Centre discriminating against Bengal

The freeze is impacting the rural economy, which is an ominous sign for the state’s ruling party ahead of the panchayat elections.

The TMC is already besieged by a slew of corruption charges against several of its top leaders and factionalism in its district and lower-level units.

The TMC suffered a shocking defeat in the Muslim-dominated Sagardighi Assembly constituency in a by-poll earlier this month. This apart, even the party’s internal reports have recently pointed at growing minority discontentment, according to TMC sources.

Also read: BJP slams Mamata for announcing protests against Centre’s policies on Ram Navami

The shift came to the fore again when hundreds of TMC workers from Muslim-dominated Murshidabad and Maldah joined the Congress on March 20.

The state’s about 30 per cent minority votes have been the TMC’s strong support base ever since it defeated the CPI (M)-led Left Front in 2011.

Moreover, the results of by-elections in the state are often seen as political barometers. The first hint of BJP’s rise in state politics at the cost of the Left Front was seen in 2017 byelections for the Basirhat Dakshin Assembly constituency.

Also read: BJP trying to make Rahul hero to divert attention from burning issues: Mamata

BJP’s Shamik Bhattacharjee won the seat in the by-election held following the death of CPI (M) MLA Narayan Mukhopadhyay. The rest as they say is history. Due to massive shift of traditional Left votes to BJP, the saffron party pocketed 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 parliamentary elections, becoming the major challenger to the TMC.

Again, the TMC’s victory in the three by-polls was the precursor to the party’s spectacular recovery in the 2021 assembly elections.

Being a seasoned politician Banerjee is quick to realise that Sagardighi by-election results could not be wished away as an isolated defeat.

Also read: TMC launches minority outreach drives, opens old Congress wounds to counter electoral reversal

To turn the tide in her party’s favour, she needed to wrest the initiatives from the opposition, who got an upper hand following the arrests of several TMC leaders over corruption charges.

To make things more difficult for the TMC government, the Centre made corruption an issue to stop funding of welfare schemes to West Bengal. This despite several central ministerial teams, sent to inspect project implementations, failing to trace any major irregularities.

Initially, the state government tried to placate the Centre, agreeing to reinstate names of the central schemes it had changed earlier in a bid to avoid direct confrontation with New Delhi. But it failed to release funds, suspended for more than a year for certain schemes such as MGNREGA.

The beleaguered TMC chief has now decided to retaliate by taking the perception battle to the streets to turn the corruption narratives on its head.

Banerjee often claims she is a street fighter who loves to slug it out on the streets. In the past, she successfully used dharnas as a political tool to outmanoeuvre her opponents and push her narratives.

She re-enacted the role by staging the dharna with her senior party colleagues in front of Dr. BR Ambedkar’s statue on Red Road, Kolkata.

“By staging the sit-in demonstration against what she claims is the indiscriminate attitude of the Centre towards the state, Banerjee is trying to appeal to the Bengali sentiment. The narrative here is to victimise Bengal, the Centre is targeting her and her party,” said senior political commentator and author Amal Sarkar.

To drive home the point, an oversized washing machine, symbolising BJP, was placed on the stage where Banerjee sat on dharna. She put black clothes on the machine and took out white ones from it.

“Under BJP’s rule, the opposition is endlessly harassed by central agencies. But the minute an opposition leader joins the BJP, they become innocent as a lamb. That’s the magic of BJP WASHING MACHINE!” TMC tweeted.

Banerjee on Wednesday said if required she could sit in dharna in front of the Prime Minister’s house, hinting she is now in combat mode.

Parallelly, Banerjee also launched a minority outreach to win back the support of the community. She started the process by reshuffling the responsibilities of her party’s minority leaders.

In a rejig of her party’s minority cell, Banerjee appointed youth leader Mosarraf Hossain as the unit’s new president. She further made West Bengal Jamiat-e-Ulama Hind president and a minister in her government Siddiqullah Chowdhury party’s organisation in-charge in Murshidabad and Maldah districts.

Party’s another popular Muslim face Firhad Hakim has been given charge of Howrah, Hooghly and North Dinajpur, the districts with sizeable Muslim population.

The biggest change, however, was made in the government. Banerjee herself took over the charge of minority affairs and the madrassa education departments removing Ghulam Rabbani.

“Her popularity among the minorities is still unmatched and she is trying to take political advantage of it by sending out the message to the community that henceforth she will personally take care of their needs,” socio-cultural activist and documentary film-maker Firoz Hossain told The Federal.

Immediately after taking charge, Banerjee directed heads of government institutions to allow Muslim employees early departure from office during the month of Ramazan. They will be allowed to leave office by 3.30 pm, an hour before the completion of duty hours.

From her sit-in demonstration, Banerjee warned the BJP that stern action would be taken as per law if the party tried to foment communal tension while taking out Ram Navami procession on Thursday.

She was responding to BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari’s announcement that his party would take out 1,000 mega rallies and 10,000 small rallies to commemorate the festival. Ram Navami is often used by Hindu rights across the country, including Bengal, to polarise communities.

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