Despite her ministers’ arrest in the seven-year-old Narada corruption sting case, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee”s popularity ratings may have touched an all-time high, though the fate of her government may be in the balance with Central agencies hinting at break down of law and order in the state, according to political analysts.
The high voltage drama which played out on Monday starting from the early morning arrests of TMC leaders by the CBI to a 6-hour long protest by Banerjee at the CBI office, and demonstrations by her party’s supporters before the Raj Bhavan and the Presidency Correctional Home where they had been taken, has focused attention on the possible political fall-out and end-game for the crisis.
Prof Ranabir Samaddar, well-known political scientist and former head of Maulana Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata, said, “Recent events where the governor has criticized his own government (over post-poll violence) and the arrests themselves are leading us into uncharted territory. “He has spoken of undesirable consequences to yesterday’s protests. Is that a hint at an end-game resulting in Governor’s Rule?”
Samaddar pointed out that the governor is bound by the advice of the chief minister and her council of ministers, yet he has given consent to the prosecution of the ministers on his own even though Banerjee had been elected by then.
“These are constitutional grey areas,” he said. Analysts believe that while the end-game may still be hazy in this deepening conflict between the Centre and the state over the arrest of two TMC ministers, a ruling party MLA and a former MLA who had joined BJP and then quit, the immediate political fall-out favours Banerjee with her popularity ratings possibly going up with the “popular perception of her fighting a lone battle against the Centre”. “There is no doubt that the chief minister has played the martyrs card well in yesterday’s one-day game and her popularity has possibly soared further at the cost of the BJP, the party she worsted in the recent polls,” said Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of the CPI(ML)-L and a statistician-turned-psephologist.
Bhattacharya added that the talk of a breakdown of law and order both by the Governor and in CBI”s plea before courts could be pointers to a larger game plan.
“However, such a move will simply underline that the BJP leadership is unmindful of the popular fall-out of their actions and further strengthen the chief minister’s position helping her consolidate for the 2024 general elections,” he added. Banerjee and her party in the campaign for the recently concluded assembly polls had tried to bring up the imagery of a lone woman fighting a horde of “outsiders” and evoke folklorish memories of Maratha raiders called ”Bargis” looting Bengal during the later Mughal period. The raking up of an old case of a sting operation by the little known Narada channel which caught several TMC functionaries accepting or agreeing to accept wads of cash on camera from a fictitious company in a style reminiscent of an earlier turn of the century sting done on several NDA leaders, is also seen as an attempt to harass her by the public at large, irrespective of political afflictions, said Rajat Roy, political analyst and member of the think tank Calcutta Research Group.
The timing of the arrests when the state is in a complete lockdown in a bid to flatten a rising graph of Covid-19 cases and the fact that the two arrested ministers were directly involved in combating the disease are also issues that political analysts feel impact public perceptions.
Roy pointed out that the BJP”s West Bengal leadership has been “extremely defensive” about the move, partly because of the public perceptions which affect them politically as well as because the leader of the opposition Suvendu Adhikari and another BJP leader Mukul Roy, both formerly with the TMC, are co-accused in the case. Other opposition parties including the Congress and the CPI(M) have tried to capitalise on this.
State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “The CBI”s act is nothing but the BJP”s politics of revenge. If these ministers can be arrested, why the BJP”s two heavyweights were left untouched?” However, analysts believe while Banerjee is gaining politically from the “drama”, she has to be careful as the scenes which were witnessed on Monday of TMC supporters pelting policemen with stones, could lead to more trouble in days ahead, with her every action being watched carefully by the central leadership.
“She has a populist sense, but her party has to have a legal sense of the unfolding scenario too to be able to manage it,” said Samaddar.