The challenges ahead in the West Bengal political landscape


Mamata Banerjee now faces challenges posed by a number of legal struggles in which she and her government figure. Photo: Reuters / Rupak De Chowdhuri

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Mamata Banerjee now faces challenges posed by a number of legal struggles in which she and her government figure. Photo: Reuters / Rupak De Chowdhuri

More than two months after the State Assembly elections, which saw the return to power of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with an overwhelming majority and its main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), making substantial gains in terms of seats, the state is set to be upset again on a range of issues.

Emerging from the electoral battle with flying colors, Mamata now faces challenges posed by a number of legal struggles in which she and her government feature. These are the multi-crore Rupee Saradha chit Fund scam case in which several TMC executives are named, and the Narada undercover operation case involving alleged corruption, which shows some number of ruling party leaders accepting bundles of banknotes. The cases are reviewed by the Central Bureau of Investigation under the control of the Indian Federal Government by order of the High Court in Calcutta.

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Another legal tangle is the Calcutta High Court which ordered a full investigation by a team from India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) into several incidents of violence and arson after the rally in the state. A bench of five High Court judges dismissed an appeal by the Mamata government to recall its order regarding the NHRC investigation. The attack on an NHRC team that traveled to southern Calcutta to investigate violence against opposition workers there added to the tensions. Two cases are also pending before the Supreme Court concerning post-election violence in Bengal.

Mamata Banerjee’s defeat in Nandigram also reached the High Court in Calcutta, which issued opinions to Suvendu Adhikari (current leader of the opposition in West Bengal) and the Election Commission (EC), asking them to respond to the quotation from the Chief Minister of the alleged use of practices, the use of religion in the countryside and the rejection by the EC of the recount of the votes in Nandigram. Suvendu, for his part, has asked the Supreme Court to argue that the hearing on Mamata’s petition against the results of the Nandigram poll be moved out of West Bengal. Much of the political battle in West Bengal has also been seen as a duel between Mamata and his trusted former lieutenant Suvendu, who defected from TMC and entered the Saffron camp in December last year.

After Suvendu joined the BJP, Mamata left no doubt about her strong opposition to him. A measure of its hardened stance on it can be obtained from a number of developments since the proclamation of the parliamentary election results on May 2. Suvendu’s influence undoubtedly posed a serious challenge to TMC’s dominance in and around the districts of East Midnapore and West Midnapore. As part of efforts to counter Suvendu’s grip in the region, Mamata has appointed six ministers from East and West Midnapore, all known for their strident anti-Suvendu stance, from among his team of 43 colleagues. ministerial.

Suvendu had built up a strong organizational network for the TMC, upon which Mamata Banerjee first built her rise to power in 2011, on the back of the Nandigram movement against land acquisition by the former Front de France government. left. The TMC claimed the majority of seats in these two Midnapore districts in the legislative elections of 2011, 2016 and 2021. In this year’s West Midnapore election TMC won 13 of 15 seats and in East Midnapore nine of 16 sieges, a blow to Suvendu’s influence in the regions. But there was one result that must have been maddening for the TMC: Suvendu’s victory at Nandigram.

In a continued push by TMC against Suvendu to blunt his influence, he was removed from his post as chairman of Tamralipta Janakalyan Samity, an East Midnapore-based cultural organization he had led for nine years as the head of TMC. Suvendu was also removed from the Sanatan Brahman Trust. His ouster as head of the Haldia Development Authority and head of three cooperative banks in Midnapore is also likely. A non-confidence motion against him was filed at the Contai Co-operative Bank and an audit was ordered to the three banks with the apparent aim of uncovering any financial irregularities. A majority of the directors on the 14-member Midnapore Vidyasagar Cooperative Society board of directors have asked Mamata to remove Suvendu from his post as president. In addition, the Bengal CID is also investigating the death of Suvendu’s security guard in 2018, as the guard’s wife is now claiming it was a murder. It all served to keep the heat on Suvendu.

On the other hand, Suvendu has gained popularity with key national BJP leaders in recent days. He has had a number of meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Interior Minister Amit Shah and BJP President JP Nadda over the past two or three months. He led BJP lawmakers to resign from various committees of the Bengal Assembly to protest the appointment of Mukul Roy as chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which gives him the rank of minister. Roy is in a prickly situation: he won the recent assembly ballot as a BJP candidate, but then moved on to TMC but did not give up his legislature membership. On the first day of the Assembly’s budget session, Roy was seen sitting on the opposition benches among lawmakers but did not join a BJP walkout. Traditionally, the post of president of the PAC has been held by the main opposition party, whether in parliament or the state legislature.

Another issue on which a confrontation is brewing is the holding of by-elections in seven constituencies of the Assembly. The reason the by-elections are important for the ruling party, according to media reports, is that Mamata herself can run in any of the seven constituencies so that she can continue to be the chief minister.

Following her loss of Nandigram, Mamata, according to Indian law, is to be elected lawmaker within six months of her appointment as chief minister. More than half of that time has already passed since Mamata took the top state executive post on May 5, and she has until November to be a lawmaker. The TMC suspects a ploy by the BJP to delay the bypolls. Mamata did not hide his anger against the EC. She criticized both the BJP and the EC when she called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to order the electoral body to conduct early by-elections for the seven seats.

Pallab Bhattacharya is the Daily Star’s special envoy. He writes from New Delhi, India.


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