On November 2, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is likely to visit Chennai for a family event of Manipur and West Bengal Governor La Ganesan. Since July this year, after West Bengal’s former Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar was elected the Vice President of India, and Mr. Ganesan, the Governor of Manipur was given additional charge of the Kolkata Raj Bhavan, there have been no public displays of differences between the West Bengal Government and the office of the Governor. This is a far cry from how things were when Mr. Dhankhar was Governor for three years, a period marked by bitter ties and differences spilling out in the public domain.
Ms. Banerjee’s Chennai visit is not the only indicator of a thaw between the Raj Bhavan and the State Secretariat. In the din of West Bengal politics, when her government and party, the Trinamool Congress, are battling a number of scams, Ms. Banerjee is recalibrating her attack on the BJP.
On September 19, when the West Bengal Legislative Assembly was passing a resolution against alleged excesses by Central investigation agencies, the Chief Minister surprised her own party members and also Opposition parties by stating on the floor of the House that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not aware that Central agencies were targeting leaders of Opposition parties.
The last time Ms. Banerjee visited Delhi, in the first week of August, she met the Prime Minister alone, but unlike previous occasions, did not address media persons about the meeting. A letter by the Chief Minister addressed to the Prime Minister stated that she had raised the issue of outstanding dues that the Centre owed the State for several core sectors, pegged at ₹1,00,968.44 crore. Over the past few months, Ms. Banerjee has hardly taken Mr. Modi’s name in her political speeches, including at the party’s annual Martyrs Day Rally on July 21. Statements like “all in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are not bad” are a sharp con leadership of the BJP and the Trinamool Congress.
Political observers feel the scams in West Bengal, particularly the recruitment scam, where not only a former Minister but half a dozen officials of the State Education Department have been put behind bars, have posed a never seen before challenge to the State’s ruling party. The issue of pending funds for welfare schemes, particularly the MGNREGA, has also been one of the factors behind the Trinamool Congress chairperson softening her stand. Welfare schemes and cash incentives rolled out by the State’s ruling party form the core of the Trinamool’s politics, and the Centre holding on to the funds on grounds of corruption is another worry for Ms. Banerjee. The party’s enthusiasm post the 2021 Assembly polls, where it felt that it could extend its footprints beyond West Bengal, also seems to have abated.
In the 2021 Assembly polls, the Trinamool successfully defended itself against the BJP juggernaut and came to power in West Bengal for the third consecutive time. For several months after the victory in May 2021, Ms. Banerjee tried to project herself as the face of the Opposition against the BJP. A section of leaders from Opposition parties also saw promise in Ms. Banerjee and come on her side while the Trinamool started nominating leaders from Goa (Luizinho Faleiro) and Assam (Sushmita Dev) to the Rajya Sabha, and tried to project itself as the ‘main Opposition’ party. There were regular columns in the party’s mouthpiece criticising the Congress party and accusing it of failing to stop the BJP. However, the situation started turning post March 2022, when political violence and cases of sexual assault on women posed serious questions on law and order and governance in the State. Since then, several High Court orders, and arrests of top party leaders, have kept the State’s ruling party on its toes.
The Trinamool Congress’s stand on the Presidential and Vice Presidential polls had given ample indication that the Trinamool chairperson was shifting her stand after being one of the most vocal critics of the top BJP leadership. While Ms. Banerjee had written to all Opposition parties to field candidates for the Presidential polls, once the BJP fielded Droupadi Murmu, she said that had there been discussion on Ms. Murmu’s candidature, she would have reconsidered her decision of an Opposition candidate.
In the elections to the office of Vice President, the Trinamool abstained from voting, making it easier for Mr. Dhankhar to win the polls. For three years beginning July 2019, when Mr. Dhankhar was the Governor of West Bengal, the Trinamool leadership did not spare an opportunity to target him, but when they could have opposed his elevation, they chose not to.
With such decisions as well as attempts to not target the top BJP leadership, Ms. Banerjee has shown that she will target the BJP when it suits her party’s political prospects. With no election round the corner — panchayat elections are slated for 2023 — she has chosen to go easy on the BJP’s top brass.