The Strategy Underlying Mamata Banerjee’s Sit-In-Protest

The chief minister's decision to hit the streets, and return to opposition mode after the attempted CBI raid, was a calculated step managed by a strategy team, sources say.

Following the unprecedented showdown between the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Kolkata police on February 3, on the back of the CBI’s attempted quizzing of city police commissioner Rajeev Kumar, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee sat on a dharna at Esplanade.

Banerjee has long been known for being an agitator who can hit the streets and hit up an issue during the days when she sat in the opposition in the state assembly.

But Mamata’s three-day sit-in-protest against the CBI’s alleged arbitrary use of power was a calculated step with a strategy team working behind the scenes.

Also read: Mamata Banerjee Is Back in Her Street Fighter Role – and That Should Worry the BJP

A local Trinamool Congress leader present at the protest, who didn’t want to be named, confirmed this: “Didi’s (Mamata) decision to sit on the protest is absolutely correct and her core team is working on the strategy to take it forward.”

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court said that the police commissioner of Kolkata, Rajeev Kumar, should appear before the CBI in Shillong, Meghalaya – a neutral place. The three-judge SC bench comprising CJI Gogoi, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjiv Khanna also observed that Kumar can’t be arrested at this point of time.

Claiming SC judgment as a “moral victory”, on Tuesday late evening, Mamata ended her protest after consultation with Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and various other political leaders who joined the two over telephonic calls.

Banerjee, however, also said that all the parties will meet in Delhi soon and chalk out a plan for the road ahead.

A clear goal

On Monday morning, Becharam Manna, the TMC MLA from Haripal, Hooghly, visited the protest site with a crowd of around a hundred people holding TMC placards. Soon after, the TMC top leaders asked the crowd to lower the placards.

In fact, Mamata herself told the crowd gathered not to raise the TMC flag or placards. Banerjee repeatedly made it clear that it was “not Trinamool party’s protest, this protest is to save the democracy and all opposition parties are supporting us”.

A flex board mounted at the background of the protest stage read, ‘Save the Constitution, Save the Federal Structure, Save the Police Force, Save the Indian Administrative Service and all the ranks of Civil Service from Disaster’.

Political experts say Mamata’s strategy is to set the political narrative – which she kicked off on january 19 at the brigade rally in Kolkata – and keep the momentum up.

Also read: Explainer: What the Standoff Between Mamata Banerjee and the Modi Govt Means

According to Biswanath Chakraborty, a political science professor at Biswa Bharati University, Mamata has successfully turned the administrative conflict between the Centre and the West Bengal government into a national political movement against prime minister Narendra Modi.

“From the administrative point of view, the issue can go either way and it might favour CBI or the Central Government in future, but there is no doubt politically that Mamata Banerjee earned mileage from this havoc and this protest,” Chakraborty added.

Prof Om Prakash Mishra, head of international relations at Jadavpur University, who is also the vice president of West Bengal Congress unit, however, had a contrarian view to offer: “She (Mamata) is trying set the political narrative, but in actuality, she is losing ground. The brigade rally on January 19 demonstrated that nobody is willing to consider her as a prime ministerial candidate.”

“CBI is acting as a hyphen between TMC and BJP. CBI is trying to deflect attention from big political events by picking on small people and she has taken advantage of that,” he added.

The protest, however, dominated the national media ever from beginning till end. Political leaders of various parties reached out to Banerjee to express solidarity.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “The happenings in Bengal are a part of the unrelenting attack on India’s institutions by Mr Modi & the BJP. The entire opposition will stand together & defeat these fascist forces.”

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee outside the Kolkata police commissioner’s residence on Sunday night. Credit: PTI

Chief ministers of various states, including H.D. Kumaraswamy, Kamal Nath, Arvind Kejriwal, N. Chandrababu Naidu, DMK Chief M.K. Stalin, National Conference leader Omar Abdulla, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav also lent their support to the protest.

DMK MP Kanimozhi, Tejashwi Yadav, N. Chandrababu Naidu paid a visit at the protest site to lend support to the protest.

Speaking to reporters, Kanimozhi said, “I would say that this episode was Modiji‘s pre-election gift to Mamata Banerjee as the BJP has realised after January 19 rally that they won’t return to power after Lok Sabha polls.”

“Undoubtedly there is positioning and image building efforts are being made by the TMC, but I definitely don’t see this heralding her at the national stage,” said political commentator and pro-VC of Jain University, Sandeep Shastri.

Shastri explained that what’s happening on the ground is actually the sideshow. The real show is the competition which is happening for the coming Lok Sabha election. “I expect multiple transgressions in the future and from both sides. Both sides want to make earn political capital from them.”

Also read: We Are Witnessing the Death of the CBI. Will Indian Democracy Follow?

Before the Andhra Pradesh chief minister persuaded Mamata to call off her protest, the veteran politician attacked the BJP and said that all democratic institutions are in danger. “BJP is constantly misusing institution like CBI, RBI, ED, Income Tax Department to victimise leaders of opposition parties,” Naidu added.

Naidu expressed solidarity with Mamata: “She is the architect and the main pillar of the opposition unity. The last meeting in Kolkata sent a strong message to the nation that opposition parties are united.”

Join The Discussion