A podium sporting the tricolours of the Indian flag and a blue Save India’ hoarding sprang up at the corner of a busy thoroughfare along Kolkata’s Esplanade. Sitting in the middle of a saffron-white-green shamiana was Mamata Banerjee in her trademark white and blue bordered saree. The colour coordination was a conscious move, and on the lines of the Mahatma’s satyagraha, the West Bengal chief minister had donned the role of a crusader. On behalf of Ma, Maati and Manush (mother, motherland and people), she was protesting against the alleged assault on democracy, the Constitution, state institutions and the federal structure of India by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
With less than 100 or so days left for the Lok Sabha election, the battle lines have been drawn it will be Modi-led NDA versus a coalition of once unimaginable allies such as the SP and BSP. And with her 48-hour-long dharna, Mamata sent out a clear message she’s ready to lead the anti-Modi alliance.
This grandstanding by the West Bengal CM was provoked by a team of CBI officials who arrived at the residence of the Kolkata Police Commissioner, Rajeev Kumar, on the night of February 3 to interrogate him in connection with the Rs 12,000 crore Saradha chit fund scam. The CBI alleged that Kumar had not been cooperating with it in the probe and had tampered with evidence. Mamata was not short of options to shield her police commissioner, but the shrewd politician in her sensed the bigger political opportunity that the crisis offered. She has remained silent earlier, in the face of the arrests of several top leaders of her party, the Trinamool Congress, but when the CBI targeted one of her most trusted police officers, she launched an unprecedented counter-attack with a political message.
Technically, it’s a victory for the CBI, backed by the Narendra Modi government. The central probe agency wanted to question Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar for his alleged role in the disappearance of certain papers and electronic evidence related to the Saradha scam.
The CBI visited the residence of Kumar, Mamata’s most trusted officer, to interrogate him, but were stopped at the gate. The central government wanted to unnerve the West Bengal chief minister. Her unprecedented mode of counter-attack derailed the BJP’s plan.
By sitting in a dharna against the Modi government and roping in support from fence-sitters opposition parties, including such as Naveen Patnaik, Mamata has positioned herself as the leading force among the rivals of the BJP, with
the ability to take Modi and Amit Shah head on.
The BJP, however, feels that the latest fiasco has given the party an opportunity to spin the 2019 contest as honest Modi versus a corrupt coalition of opposition parties.
With no strong leader in the state to take on Mamata, it will be challenging for the BJP to win 10 seats in West Bengal, as planned by Shah. In the 2016 assembly poll, the BJP’s vote share had dipped to 10 per cent from 17 per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha election.