On June 9, Mamata kind of created a political hailstorm in West Bengal politics by meeting with the Left delegation headed by CPM state secretary Biman Bose. They had earlier asked for a meeting with her to discuss post poll violence against left workers by the Trinomool Congress. Since winning the assembly elections in 2011, chief minister’s office had received several requests for meeting from Left and Left backed union leaders but she never paid any attention to any of them. So why this sudden act of holding out olive branch to her sworn enemies, castigating whom Mamata made her career happen at this juncture after the Lok Sabha elections result? The answer is plain and simple and it lies with the rise of BJP in Bengal.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with Narendra Modi at the Centre with a complete majority and with unprecedented vote percentage secured in West Bengal in last elections, is in a resurgent mood and want to capture the space for lead opposition in the state. Left parties may find themselves helpless in countering the post poll violence allegedly done by TMC workers, but BJP is energising their Bengal unit by sending two central delegations within a month to listen complaints of attack on their workers. By adopting this strategy, they are putting substantial pressure on TMC supremo to take them seriously in Bengal politics. In a latest, Mamata has threatened to send TMC MPs to BJP ruled states to highlight things there as well in a tit for tat response.
In a way, Mamata is in fix to define her relations with the BJP and Modi government at the centre. She was one of the few leaders to congratulate Modi when he won the assembly elections after 2002 Gujarat riots. However, the changed reality in her state and increasing support of the Muslims towards TMC (who constitute 25% of the Bengal population) forced her to shun Modi during his high profile campaign for prime ministership. In the Lok Sabha campaign, she attacked Modi by calling him dangar mukh (face of the riot) and threatened to arrest him for making hate speech in the state on the Bangladeshi outsider issue. After Modi has become the PM, though other regional leaders like Jayalalithaa or Naveen Patnaik exchanged greetings with him, it is only Mamata who is still maintaining a distance with the BJP leader.
But the question is how long she will position herself as the anti-Modi figure in Indian politics. It is not a secret that the state’s financial situation is in shambles, supposedly due to the 2 lakh crore loans taken by the previous left government. To overcome this financial crunch, Mamata has to be on the negotiating table with Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. West Bengal is also supposed to get 2 lakh 55 thousand crores from the fourteenth Finance Commission from 2015 to 2020. If she fails to get hold of this fund from the centre, fears are there that her developmental activities in the state will be halted and Bengal would find no mention in national arena.
Even the Modi government expects to maintain a cordial relation with Mamata Banerjee for the simple reason that her cooperation is required on many fronts. The recent praise for Bengal CM by the PM in his maiden speech in Parliament and the offer by the government to give the Chairmanship of very important Public Accounts Committee to Trinomool could be seen in that context. For the next 2 years, BJP will still be in minority in Rajya Sabha and they need the support of 12 TMC MPs to get through many important bills on the floor. Secondly with 34 MPs in Loksabha and with a strong anti land acquisition struggle as her experience, Mamata could be sought as the public face of many protests against the hard economic reforms Modi government may pursue soon as expected.
However, Mamata is very cautious already in her approach towards the BJP because she knows who can be her real enemies of future. Therefore she will now possibly engage with the left leaders more to keep them relevant in the state politics. Decimation of the left parties could be her earlier dream but presently it can be nightmare for her because the shrinking space for the left will only increase the opportunities for BJP in the state. And as witnessed in the post poll analysis meeting done by TMC at the Saltlake stadium recently where she primarily targeted BJP and spoke very little on left and Congress, it is evident that she will put everything to stop the saffron march in the state.
Political observers in the state are also keen to see whether she walks a few steps more and do a Lalu-Nitish in West Bengal. In the meeting with the left leaders, she talked about the communal character of the BJP and the importance of secularism in West Bengal. Left politicians conceded her point and urged her to maintain a democratic atmosphere in the state free of violence so that communalism can be countered. They are justifiably worried because their helplessness in protecting the left workers are pushing them to take shelter from BJP who assures them of support from the strong Modi government at the centre. Mamata after the meeting asked her senior party leaders to cooperate with left leaders to check inter party conflict.
Such unexpected bonhomie between the two parties may not give rise to communalism versus secularism politics in West Bengal but it can redefine the politics in the state in many ways. With their political rise, problems for the BJP in the state will rise manifold and to tackle them they need to find local solutions because the nature of politics in very different in Bengal. The politics of the communist parties and the TMC have always revolved around a left centric approach and they found tremendous support from the public. Only time will tell how BJP will maintain their rise in Bengal when their leader would take hard right centric economic decisions?