By pilfering the BJP’s polished spiel rationalising defections as a necessary political move, the TMC is certainly being provocative
Meetings between chief ministers and the Prime Minister on state issues are routine and usually do not excite the media, nor do they fuel so much speculation. However, the meeting between West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this week — and similar recent encounters — were a little different. These were more like a gladiatorial contest conducted in a format that is as measured as a pas de deux.
The issues that Mamata Banerjee said she raised include the unpaid dues on the Goods and Services Tax, the extension of the Border Security Force’s operational area to 50 km inside India from the international border, the endemic crisis of the jute industry, the failure of the BJP’s Tripura government in ensuring a safe and free environment for fair elections and mundane other problems that are expected to occur in a federal power-sharing arrangement.
The buildup before the meeting and the reaction by several political parties after it point to a very different scenario, because her visit, days before the Winter Session of Parliament and soon after the Narendra Modi government succumbed to pressure from the farmers’ movement and apologised after it promised to repeal the three controversial farm laws, implies there is a larger politics within which this particular state’s relationship with the Centre is embedded. Adept at capturing public attention, the two leaders were clearly measuring up against each other, because in many quarters, including by the Trinamul Congress, Mamata Banerjee is seen as the face and the challenger from the anti-BJP Opposition to Mr Modi in 2024.
The most recent and visually arresting confrontation between the two sides was a lightning strike by the Trinamul Congress’ members of Parliament who were urgently summoned to New Delhi and then deployed in a move that certainly confounded home minister Amit Shah and may have unsettled his boss. The invasion of North Block and the four-hour sit-in, with the usual Bengal style add-ons of a chorus belting out the iconic protest music We shall overcome and Uthogo Bharat Lakshmi, forced the government to meet the MPs and promise an inquiry and action about the law and order situation in Tripura ahead of the turbulent municipal elections of November 25. The North Block demonstration was a different version of the delegations of BJP leaders who routinely went to New Delhi to complain to Mr Shah and Mr Modi about the law and order situation in West Bengal.
The addition of three big names, from Bihar and Haryana, to the TMC’s growing list of non-Bengali speaking leaders from outside West Bengal during Mamata Banerjee’s recent visit obscures the more interesting play-offs between the challenger and the incumbent, namely the Narendra Modi government, midway through its second term in power in New Delhi. It is a game of reverse colonisation, with the satellite, West Bengal, initiating moves to colonise the Centre, namely the Hindi- speaking heartland and its about 225 seats out of 543 in the Lok Sabha. By pilfering the BJP’s polished spiel rationalising defections as a necessary political move, the Trinamul Congress is certainly being provocative.
In the 2021 version of the post-Assembly election federal politics of the Opposition-ruled states, there are intriguing changes and shifts. Of the many, the two most noticeable changes are the use of the BJP’s weapons by the regional/smaller or more accurately non-national parties to corner the ruling party at the Centre, and to use strategies that the BJP has used effectively in the past to destabilise the Opposition-led ruling party in the state.
Copy-pasting from the BJP’s West Bengal version of its playbook, the Trinamul Congress seems to be inviting the public to share in the delicious irony of its complaints to the Supreme Court and Tripura high court mimicking the BJP about denying police permission for its meetings in Agartala and elsewhere.
More intriguing is how Mamata Banerjee has used the BSF’s territorial expansion to make common cause with Punjab to draw public attention to the BJP’s clandestine colonisation ambitions that subverts the idea of federalism and thus convert an apparently local grievance into a national issue.
It points to a new politics of finding common causes to build a platform that amplifies the Opposition’s attack on the BJP as a party intent on centralising power by strengthening its authoritarian style of governance that undermines the Constitution and its principles of pluralism, democracy, federalism and secularism. This is in many ways a superfast adaptation of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha’s strategy of finding ways of creating an inclusive, diverse and unified partnership of equals, regardless of size, and the details and differences in the agendas of the 500-plus organisations that worked together to compel the Modi government to back down over the three farm laws.
The game that the anti-BJP, non-Congress Opposition parties, most of them regional and family-managed entities with strong caste allegiances, seem to have initiated is to create platforms that are ideologically and functionally flexible around a common cause — the BJP’s ouster from power in the states and at the Centre. The Kisan Morcha units in the states where it exists is a platform built to accommodate the farm sector organisations that are operational in that state. In some states, this could mean a collective of 50 farmers’ organisations, in others it could include multiples of that number.
The fluidity embedded in the SKM’s structure, enabling participating organisations to pursue their specific agendas without creating frictions over what is permissible and kosher, appears to be the template that Ms Banerjee and the non-national anti-BJP and often anti-Congress parties have agreed to follow. In Uttar Pradesh, the partnerships that Akhilesh Yadav is establishing for his Samajwadi Party is part of the new variation on alliance-building. He has linked forces with the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, a splinter of Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, an unconfirmed deal with the Kamerawadi faction of the Apna Dal, and seems to be on course to make friends with the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party, as well as cement an older tie with the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Abandoning ideological squeamishness characteristic of all Opposition alliances in the past, Ms Banerjee in Goa has signed on the Goa Forward Party, which was a partner of the BJP, as has SP’s Akhilesh Yadav joined forces with factions of the parties that are current allies of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance or have been part of the NDA in the past.