It is indeed ironical that the description of the results of the recent by-elections in 10 Assembly seats in West Bengal as a “vote against atrocities” should come from Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee at a time when the Left leadership in the State accuses her party and the Maoists of being responsible for the killings of more than 150 of its supporters this year alone.

The Trinamool Congress has its share of victims too, but there is no denying that the present cycle of violence is the outcome of a shift in the balance of power at the grassroots level as turf wars involving activists of the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) rage intermittently, particularly in south Bengal. The ferocity and frequency of this jostling for political space has increased since the electoral successes of Ms. Banerjee’s party in the rural elections in May 2008.

But even before it had savoured the first taste of that success, the Trinamool Congress had been spoiling for a confrontation with the Left Front government once Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s regime was re-elected to power in the 2006 Assembly polls — whether on the thorny issue of acquisition of land for industry in Singur (that started in 2006) or that in Nandigram (2007). The agitation mode has continued.

There were the developments in Lalgarh, precipitated by the setting up in November 2008 of a local resistance group backed by Maoists, against alleged police atrocities on a section of villagers — one that also got the support, occasionally overt, of the Trinamool Congress.

The party’s equations with the Maoists have, at best, been dubious. Having opposed from the start the joint security operation against the ultras and having dismissed any suggestion of their presence in the State, Ms. Banerjee is now charging the Marxists and the Maoists of being “two sides of the same coin;” the operation a pretext of the State government to engage in “State-sponsored terrorism” even though the security exercise might have been mandated by a government at the Centre of which she is a Minister.

This change in her posturing has raised questions in various political quarters. Could it have come in the wake of the acknowledgement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram that the Maoists are the greatest threat to internal security?

Might their assertions have forced Ms. Banerjee into a position of awkwardness she is desperate to wriggle out of given the disclosures by Maoist Polit Bureau member Koteswar Rao, alias Kishanji, that left-wing extremists were present in Nandigram during the agitation spearheaded by the Trinamool Congress there in 2007?

Not to speak of her meeting with Chhatradhar Mahato, the convenor of the Maoist-backed Police Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee, a self-confessed agent of the Trinamool Congress in Lalgarh during the 2008 rural elections.

Even as the Left Front leadership, reeling under the impact of reversals suffered in successive elections over the past year, looks for corrective measures to get its act together ahead of the crucial Assembly elections in 2011, it appears that the Trinamool Congress leadership, riding the crest of its electoral successes, is in a hurry for the polls.

Of late, Ms. Banerjee seems to have dropped the demand for the imposition of President’s Rule in the State on the ground of a “total breakdown in law and order” — something Ms. Banerjee has been strident about since the resounding success of the Trinamool Congress-Congress electoral alliance in the April-May Lok Sabha elections.

Instead, she is now speaking of “Assembly elections drawing nearer with every act of terror” the CPI(M) is allegedly responsible for.

Not that the relations between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress are exactly hunky-dory. Even though leaders of the two parties keep trying to put differences between them under the lid, not always has the Congress taken kindly to Ms. Banerjee’s high-handedness on matters of seat adjustment, demanding greater “mutual respect” for the sake of the alliance.

The Trinamool Congress may privately not be too disappointed over the failure of its electoral partner of failing to win more than one of the three seats it contested in the recent by-polls when it, on the other hand, recorded a “hundred per cent” success, coming up trumps in all the seven seats where it was in the fray.

A definite outcome of the November 7 by-elections is that Ms. Banerjee’s writ shall prevail when it comes to matters concerning the alliance.


Cracks in West Bengal’s red bastion widensNovember 12, 2009