NRC, Owaisi could wreck Mamata’s fortunes in Bengal

West Bengal’s hot-headed Muslim appeasing chief minister Mamata Banerjee (Didi) clearly finds herself between the devil and the deep blue sea. Her political fortunes seem to be slipping, and she is clueless on how best to stop the descent. This was evident from her unprovoked fulmination against the leader of the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Musalmeen, Asaduddin Owaisi, as well as her repeated adversarial posturing against Union home minister Amit Shah on the government’s plan to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Didi’s anxiety over the AIMIM’s growing footprint among Muslim voters was apparent from her free-wheeling advice to members of the community not to be influenced by certain Hyderabad based extremist elements within their fold. The counsel was proffered at a public rally in Cooch Behar. Quite obviously her finger was firmly pointed at the unnamed Owaisi in the aftermath of his party’s victory in the Kishanganj assembly by-poll in Bihar. Didi was quick to calculate that given the proximity of Kishanganj to the Bengal border, it is only a matter of time before Owaisi’s influence spills into the Muslim dominated districts of Malda, Murshidabad, and North Dinajpur in Sonar Bangla. The Muslim leader, in fact, has already announced his intention to field AIMIM candidates in the 2021 Bengal assembly poll.

Owasi’s riposte could only have further heightened Didi’s disquiet on her political future. He said Muslims remained an impoverished lot during her rule despite having voted almost en masse for the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in two successive assembly polls. A solid 30 per cent chunk of Bengal’s electorate is Muslim. That the BJP still managed to win 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 was a shocker. Implicit in Owaisi’s counter was the deduction that Hindus too were fast losing faith in Didi and her roadside brand of politics.

Adding to Didi’s woes has been the complete transformation of politics in the North-East, especially Assam. Though Bengal largely remained unaffected by the rise of the BJP in the region, the twin issues of illegal Bangladeshi immigration and implementation of the NRC have the potential of disturbing her electoral hold. Especially her compact with the Muslims on whose strength she twice strode to power. The outcome of the 2019 poll was the first sign of the storm ahead. Now that Amit Shah has formally announced that the NRC will be implemented in the entire country, she has realized the volatility of her situation. Hence, the edginess, the desperation.

Most political analysts feel Didi has outlived her political utility. Latching on to power purely on the strength of her loud mouthed and often uncouth opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not work for much longer. Unrelenting opposition to the CPM in 36 years of continuous communist rule in Bengal is what made her career in the Congress. This was in sharp contrast to those helming the party’s state unit of, almost all of whom had a private understanding with the Marxists to ensure the protection of their petty personal interests. The Marxists were only too happy to play along with this arrangement. Didi was the only exception to the virtual prostration of the party leadership before the ruling CPM. The Bengal Congress was a sitting duck for a split when she walked out to form the TMC in 1997. Ultimately it was the Nandigram and Singur movements which propelled her to power in 2011.

Didi began her innings well, paying due obeisance to Maa, Maati, Manush, the emotive political slogan on which she had erected the scaffolding of her campaign. It was the election of Narendra Modi in 2014 which exposed her latent fascist streak which later acquired a distinct anti-Hindu hue. It was a defense mechanism to keep intact her political relevance. Given her Congress background, she was naturally averse to being seen pro-Hindu. So she did the next best thing: take to blatant minority appeasement to ensure that her lack of appeal among uncompromising Hindus would be more than neutralised by the Muslim vote.

Thus commenced her blind cultivation of mad mullahs like Imam Barkati who announced a reward of Rs. 25 lakh for anyone who dared to shave off Modi’s beard and head, and smear him with ink. Abetment of violence, stirring communal riots like Kaliachak and Dhulagarh, encouraging loot and lawlessness by TMC cadre were the weapons she employed to downsize her rivals.

BJP-RSS leaders were prevented from visiting the state by denying them a venue for a meeting. Durga Puja immersions were kept on hold to accommodate Muharram processions. Efforts were made to sabotage poll meetings, deny landing rights to Amit Shah’s helicopter etc. The list of her petty doings is long.

Time now is fast approaching for the chickens to come home to roost. Didi knows it only too well. NRC will be the natural flashpoint to call her bluff and puncture her bluster well before the 2021 state poll.


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About the Author

Sudhir K Singh
Sudhir K Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha. He will be writing regularly for the Hindu Post as consulting editor.