By Amulya Ganguli
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s decline in the eyes of the middle class began within days of her assumption of office when she rushed to a police station to secure the release of several anti-socials who had been rounded up by the police on the charges of hooliganism.
That the head of the government would personally go to a thana in aid of goons with alleged links to her party was something which appalled the Bengali bhadralog, members of the genteel urban middle class who constituted a sizeable base of her support.
The incident showed that she had failed to shed her street-fighting instincts, which had served her so well during her long battle with the Leftists. They were out of place, however, in her new avatar as the chief minister.
If the bhadralog were willing to forgive her for her temperamental behaviour, including a getting a professor arrested for posting a cartoon about her on the Internet, or transferring a police officer for seriously pursuing a case of rape which the chief minister had trashed as sajano ghatana or concocted incident, they are unlikely to show the same indulgence to her on the latest “anti-national” developments.
These include, first, an explosion in a house in Burdwan district where bombs were apparently being manufactured; and, secondly, the suspicion that the culprits, two of whom died in the blast, were terrorists belonging to the Jamaatul-Mujahideen of Bangladesh.
These are not the only elements in the episode which have put the state government and the Trinamool Congress on the back foot. The fact that an office of the Trinamool Congress is located in the house suggests either a foolish lack of awareness of the activities of the other occupants or, more damagingly, a deliberate turning of the blind eye.
The second possibility gained credence because of the state government’s initial preference to treat the issue as a law and order problem, which did not have a terrorist angle, and its unwillingness to allow the National Investigative Agency (NIA) to probe the matter.
It is only when the allegations of the police dragging their feet, if not covering up the incident, became too strong to be ignored that the government finally allowed the culprits to be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
But, by then, nearly irreparable damage had been done to the government’s and the chief minister’s reputation, not least because the reason for their laxness has been ascribed to their desire to keep on the right side of the state’s Muslim population of 30 per cent.
It is the same reflexive pandering to fundamentalists which has come in the way of allowing Taslima Nasreen to live in Kolkata (the Leftists, too, were similarly guilty) and to raise the bogey of an assault on federalism if the centre urged strong action against Islamic terrorists.
It is the international dimension of the Burdwan incident, however, which must be deeply worrying to Mamata, for the primary target of the bomb-makers was Sheikh Hasina’s government in Bangladesh. It is this aspect of the incident which persuaded the NIA to begin investigating the matter without waiting for a reluctant state government to give it permission.
Even if the chief minister has cried foul over the centre’s “interference”, it is unlikely to make much of an impact because of the suspicion about the state government’s dithering. The subsequent discovery of several other “safe houses” from where the anti-Bangladesh terrorists operated have further eroded the government’s credibility.
Evidently, the Islamic radicals saw Burdwan district as an area where they could operate with impunity because of the inefficiency of the police or of their unwillingness to act against suspected Muslims because of the possible political repercussions.
Prior to the blasts, there were allegations that money from a chit fund scheme, which is now being probed, was sent to Bangladesh. The name of a Muslim Trinamool Congress M.P. was mentioned in this context. There is also an Intelligence Bureau report about a link between the Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh and the chit fund scheme.
If there has been a surprising jump in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) vote share in West Bengal from six per cent in the 2009 parliamentary polls and four per cent in the 2011 assembly elections to 16.8 per cent this year, the reason is Mamata’s dwindling popularity in view of her inability to graduate from a rabble-rouser to a sober and responsible administrator.
The BJP has gained because the Leftists are yet to recover from their long years of misrule – skeletons have been dug up from under the houses of some of their local operatives – and the Congress remains without credible leaders and ideas.
Now, if speculation about why the Islamic terrorists regarded West Bengal as a safe haven intensifies, then the BJP will be expected to make further headway in strengthening its base, particularly among the middle class. The BJP’s trump card will be the charge that the state government has been tardy in stopping illegal immigration from Bangladesh and nabbing them after they have entered West Bengal. (IPA Service)