Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee, has changed the turf from Bengal to Bengali elections on the 125th birth anniversary of “Deshnayak” Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The West Bengal chief minister used the Jai Shri Ram war cry to take away the wind out of the sail from her “outsider” rival’s bid to capture state people’s love and devotion to Netaji. (It may be recalled that during the Ramjanambhoomi bhoomi Pujan, prime minister Narendra Modi had said “Jai Siaram”, the usual northern Indian salutation. Her one-minute speech stoked the Bengali emotions and pride so high that her arch rivals – CPM and Bengal Congress threw their plank behind her. CPM leader Mohd Salim in a press conference and Congress leader Adhir Chaudhury have agreed with Mamata that it was an official function and such party slogans were inappropriate. It would be too much of a speculation to imagine that all the three parties would form a combine. But when it comes to the northern rival, their opposition might create a common unannounced platform.Mamata’s supposed anger was planned or not, she, since the morning of the January 23, has been paving a separate path. Before commencement of the 7-km procession from Shyambazar Netaji statue she blew a conchshell at 12.15 pm, the time when Netaji was born on 1897, a tradition Bengal has been following since his mysterious disappearance in 1945. There she also stoked another Bengali soft corner of shifting of the capital from Calcutta (Kolkata) to New Delhi in 1911 by the British, post-1905 anti-Bengal partition movement, considered as a punishment to Bengalis that led to its impoverisation as well as communalising politics and Muslim League’s 1946 “direct action” slaughter of Hindus in the city and Noakhali forcing the Partition of the country. Her demand for four national capitals and roving Parliament sessions has support for regaining that pride. Bengalis see it as restoration of their long-pending due as well as a move to decentralise from a heavy-headed Delhi centre and seem to agree with her, “I believe that India must have four rotating capitals. The English ruled the entire country from Kolkata. Why should there be only one capital city in our country.” Her questioning of why Deshnayak Diwas as celebrated in West Bengal to Parakram Diwas has wide support as she says, “Rabindranath Tagore (another Bengal icon) had described Netaji as ‘Deshnayak’ and that is why we have today used the name to link the two legends of Bengal”. “What is the meaning of ‘Parakram’? They may dislike me politically but could have consulted with me. They could have consulted with Netaji’s great-grandsons Sugata Bose or Sumantra Bose on choosing a word,” Banerjee says. She has been calculative. She apparently wins the emotions. But there are voices in the state echoed by a magazine Swarajya that speaks of the other views too, “the Bengal CM could have ignored slogans, or could have silenced the Jai Shri Ram sloganeers with Netaji Zindabad by flying off the handle, she only confirmed her intemperate nature”. She is also not being pardoned for this state of affairs today on the Ram slogan, “and it is of Mamata Banerjee’s own making. Since 2016, Jai Shri Ram has become an acutely political one and the TMC chief was quick to order the state administration to obstruct BJP and its affiliates organizing Ram Navami celebrations through covert means and administrative curbs on such processions or banning it to appease her valuable Muslim vote bank,” Swarajya says. The perception strengthened after denial by her government to hold Saraswati pujas in some schools and even Durga pujas at some places though religious events of minorities were allowed to be observed. Mamata is using the Netaji anniversary to change that by creating a pan-Bengal sentiment as she finds it not easy to counter the BJP’s political aggression and poaching on the leaders of her party. She has also not found it easy to come out of the accusations of promoting her nephew Abhishek Bandyopadhyay and his alleged unsavoury deeds.
Astute politically, having risen from the ranks of Chhaatra Parishad, students’ wing of the Congress during former CM Siddharth Shankar Ray’s times, she took up the challenge to contest symbolically from Nandigram, which is the supposed bastion of Shubhendu Adhikari, who defected to BJP a few days back, known for organizing the protest against CPM government and bringing TMC to power.
Despite this it is not easy to checkmate the rise of the BJP, a result of minority aggrandisement, alleged graft of Mamata’s aides, a number of scams – Saradha, Naarada and Rose Valley type – and deteriorating law and order situation. Bengal is not happy with her intemperate and unpredictable behaviour nor does it support her gesture to minorities or her offering of prayers in their style. She is aware of it. She needs an image correction. She uses the Netaji anniversary to refurbish her ‘Bengali’ image. It has caused ripples in the society leading many of her critics to visibly come to her support. It has certainly thrown a spanner in her rival’s tactics. But elections are still about three months away. The main rival is not a political novice. It may come out with counter strategies during the Saraswati puja, Ramakrishna Paramahansa Jayanti, Holi called Dol in Bengal or Baisakhi. The electoral battle will be colorful and how other parties and Mamata counteract in the state would be interesting to watch. Whosoever goes down would fight to the finish.