Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s letter to leaders of various parties opposed to the rule of Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre has triggered much speculation in the state which is going through a high-voltage and prolonged eight-phase election.
Banerjee wrote this letter on March 28 to leaders like the Congress’s Sonia Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Admi Party (AAP), Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena), Hemant Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Omar Abdullah of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, among others.
The Trinamool Congress chief (TMC), who is seeking a third consecutive term as chief minister of West Bengal, wrote in the letter that she wanted to convey her “serious concerns over a series of assaults by the BJP and its Government at the Centre on democracy and Constitutional Federalism in India.”
The three-page letter listed how the BJP was trying to destabilise the country by harassing opposition parties using various means, undermining state governments run by opposition parties, engineering defections in opposition parties using money gained from “questionable sources” and using investigating agencies run by the Centre to intimidate leaders of non-BJP parties.
“There is a clear pattern and purpose behind all these developments. The BJP wants to make it impossible for non-BJP parties to exercise their Constitutional rights and freedoms. It wants to dilute the powers of state governments and downgrade them to mere municipalities. In short, it wants to establish a ONE-PARTY AUTHORITARIAN RULE in India. Therefore, I strongly believe that the time has come for a united and effective struggle against the BJP’s attacks on democracy and the Constitution,” she wrote.
She also urged the leaders to deliberate on these issues after the assembly elections were over and chart a plan of action.
“We can win this battle only with unity of hearts and minds, and by presenting a credible alternative to the people of India,” she wrote.
Terming the passage of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act as an “extremely grave development”, she wrote, “With this law, the BJP government at the Centre has snatched away practically all the powers of the democratically elected government of Delhi, and vested them in the hands of the Lt Governor, a nominee of the Centre. The Lt Governor has been made the undeclared Viceroy of Delhi, acting as a proxy for the Home Minister and the Prime Minister.”
She then alleged that in states governed by non-BJP parties, the Centre was creating problems for the elected governments “by misusing the office of the Governor.”
“In many states, including in West Bengal, governors have been functioning like BJP’s office bearers, and not as neutral constitutional authorities,” she wrote, adding, “The BJP government at the Centre has been brazenly and vindictively misusing the CBI, ED and other institutions against leaders and functionaries of non-BJP parties for its own partisan political ends.”
Her acrimonious relation with West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar is widely known and the party has repeatedly accused Dhankhar of being an agent of the BJP, a charge that Dhankhar has denied.
“Both in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where Assembly elections are now underway, the Modi Government has unleashed the ED to conduct raids on functionaries of the All India Trinamool Congress and DMK. Predictably, these institutions target only non-BJP leaders, and never those belonging to the BJP,” said Banerjee’s letter.
Incidentally, ahead of the Bengal elections, parties like the Shiv Sena, NCP, RJD and JMM had initially revealed their plans to contest but later backtracked, deciding to support Banerjee instead. Hemant Soren even came to campaign against the BJP in some tribal-dominated assembly segments that share a border with Jharkhand.
Banerjee, in her letter, also alleged that the BJP had “amassed unlimited resources from questionable sources,” which was being used “to topple duly elected non-BJP governments and to engineer defections in non-BJP parties.”
It was not yet clear as to what response she has received from those to whom her letter was addressed. Political analysts in the state, however, almost unanimously agreed on what the letter meant: she wanted to focus on national politics once the polls were over.
“The letter makes it clear that irrespective of the outcome of the ongoing assembly elections, she is going to focus on national politics to take on the BJP,” said psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata. “She will do that irrespective of whether she wins Bengal or loses.”
The TMC had 22 members elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019 but three of them – Sunil Kumar Mandal of Burdwan East, Sisir Adhikary of Kanthi and Dibyendu Adhikary of Tamluk – have joined the BJP since December 2020.
According to Udayan Bandyopadhyay, who teaches political science at Bangabasi College in Kolkata, “The letter reflects Mamata Banerjee’s confidence in winning the assembly elections, following which she is evidently going to focus on national politics. It seems she has made up her mind about increasing her focus on national politics.”
Columnist and political analyst Suman Bhattacharya echoed them. “Her next target is Delhi. This letter makes it evident,” he said.
Incidentally, Mamata Banerjee had played an instrumental role in trying to forge an anti-BJP coalition of opposition parties ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, too, and had organised a mega rally in Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground in January 2019 where almost all leaders of regional parties opposed to the BJP were present.
However, the initiative did not materialise, as over the following days, differences emerged between different parties over seat-sharing.
“She will be renewing that initiative. This time, the plan is to work on this anti-BJP consolidation well ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections so that people are presented with a credible and formidable alternative to the Modi rule,” said a TMC Rajya Sabha MP who did not want to be named.
The BJP has mocked this initiative, with the party’s state unit president Dilip Ghosh calling it “her retirement plan.”
“She will have nothing to do in Bengal after the assembly elections. She will not even be an MLA because she is going to lose from Nandigram. Therefore, she is making advance plans to find some engagement for herself,” Ghosh said.
He added, “Her initiative ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections fell flat on its face and this will meet the same fate.”
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya is a journalist and author based in Kolkata.