West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, whose enormously inflated vote bank, built with strategic social engineering, carrying on the platform the entire gamut of minority communities and Bangladeshi immigrants, remains her key protective concern in every discourse that challenges her ‘blinkered love’ for the foreign infiltrators who have plagued India for too long. Alongside, she takes her reasonably big chunk of Hindu vote for granted and believes that she stays indefinitely invincible. The ever-swelling number of this vote bank virtually defies all conceivable calculations, even as her political opponents attack her ‘curious anti-national streak’ in constantly adding the aliens’ burden on the country, on the pretext of doing her “even-handed and humanitarian act”.

Some even allege that a sizable number of these Bangladeshis came here on her ‘secret invitation’. But finally, has not the presence of 10 million Bangladeshis made life hell for the people of Bengal because of their known horrific criminal activities, ranging from terrorism, murders, minting fake currency, large-scale thefts and trade in illicit arms? They wield great influence on Bengal politics for two reasons: their huge numbers and the Banerjee government’s largesse and unrestricted support to them, especially in relation to the Centre’s reservation on their citizenship rights.

Conspiracy to settle down Rohingyas

Not only that, intelligence agencies have warned of a conspiracy to settle down even 40,000 Rohingyas in Bengal. Now staying in various parts of the country, Rohingyas are said to be welcomed by the chief minister. The intelligence report says that a good number of Rohingyas are already settled in the 24 Parganas and new homes are being constructed for them. Dozens of paid organisations are involved in settling these Rohingyas in Bengal illegally. The Centre has told the Supreme Court that “Rohingyas pose a serious threat to national security with links to terror outfits, including the Islamic State… Many of them figure in the suspected sinister designs of ISI/ISIS and other extremists groups who want to achieve their ulterior motives in India, including flaring up communal and sectarian violence in sensitive areas of the country.” Is Banerjee, then, worried about the national interest, when unquenchable thirst for vote bank controls her psyche?

That explains why the BJP leaders now declare that they will “implement the National Register of Citizens in Bengal too and will send back all illegal immigrants to Bangladesh, once they are voted to power in the state. “India is not a dharamshala for infiltrators”, says State BJP president Dilip Ghosh, adding that Bangladeshi Muslims want to increase their population in India. They have made colonies here. Rohingyas are doing the same. This has to stop… Tough days are ahead; we will not tolerate any illegal immigrants in Bengal.” Ghosh’s words sound like music to the ears of most Bengalis. But the chief minister explodes in extreme anger and dares anyone to touch “these citizens of India”. She has even warned of a countrywide “bloodbath” and a “civil war” over the issue.

PM insists action on NRC is essential

The Modi government has, however, cautioned the chief minister that any attempts to create an atmosphere of fear on NRC would be counter-productive for her government. Its stand is that action on NRC is essential as “it is a matter of national security. The BJP regime comes clean in the matter as the whole procedure of Assam-NRC was initiated under the supervision of Supreme Court. In fact, the court had directed that “all border states must have an NRC.” The NRC initiative was taken by late PM Rijiv Gandhi in 1985 through the Assam Accord. But the decision to update was taken by Manmohan Singh in 2005. But the UPA regime failed to move ahead. Only the Modi government had guts to proceed on this. On the NRC draft, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has made it clear that there will be “no coercive action against anyone.” On the issue of 40 lakh people finding themselves out of the NRC in Assam, Singh said, “It is just a draft and not the final list. ..Everyone will get chance to appeal.”

While the TMC, Congress and CPI(M) leaders are not satisfied with the Singh’s assurance, they view Dilip Ghosh’s remarks as reflecting the “anti-Bengali mindset” of BJP which, they allege, was trying to ‘import Hindi heartland culture’ in Bengal. Even former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi says that “BJP is creating newer problems. NRC draft is full of faults. On one side, they are speaking of Assam Accord, on the other, they are speaking of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and want to grant citizenship to immigrants... This is a contradiction.”

Banerjee exploiting Muslim aversion to BJP

Banerjee is averse to the NRC, too; she calls the draft list in Assam “unjust, inequitable and horribly worrying”. She sees the “citizens of India already made refugees by the BJP government” and alleges that “in its effort to play election politics, BJP has isolated humanity. This is nothing but political isolation. They have identified the voters who would not vote for BJP and that is why they isolated them.” She questions: “How can a government make its own people stateless?” Well, her poser may look pretty edifying on surface at the first glance, but it is highly insidious, corrosive and politically driven. What is she trying to convey by her remark that the Modi government has “identified the voters who would not vote for BJP?” In fact, she has made it abundantly plain by her own assertion that she is fighting for her hefty vote bank of Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, who have clear aversion and distaste for the saffron party and never vote for it. If these infiltrators constitute her solid vote bank, then how will she let them be sent back to the country of their origin, even if that means a big drag on India’s resources and perpetual suffering for the people of West Bengal?

Chief minister alarmed by BJP's inroads in Bengal

A pertinent question arises here. Why is Banerjee so enamoured with the Muslim vote, partly even at the cost of Hindu support? In fact, the BJP’s inroads in West Bengal winning two seats and 17.06% vote share in 2014 Lok Sabha election had alarmed Banerjee, which made her resolve still stronger to build a solid constituency of Muslims, including a large number of Bangladeshis, whose copious support has kept her party in power for so long. BJP’s vote share rose by 12% since the 2009 Lok Sabha election. If she stands overawed by the 28% vote share of Muslims which contributed to the TMC sweep in the state, then how can she give up her extreme Muslim doting and take to neutrality and unbiased political leaning? Her compulsion is easy to understand.

Muslims vote as a solid group, unlike Hindus whose votes get essentially divided in many parts, depending on individual preferences. That explains why in 2014, the TMC won 34 out of the 42 seats with a 39.4% vote share, the Congress 4 seats with 9% vote share and the Left registered its worst performance since Independence, winning just two seats with 23% vote share. The vigorous campaigns of Modi and Banerjee, laced with their razor-sharp wordy duel, changed the complexion of the electoral combat, reducing the other parties to almost non-entities. Though Modi’s dream run was effectively stalled here by Banerjee, who benefited from her Muslim vote bank, she was visibly shaken by the BJP’s stellar performance in the state, where it was considered irrelevant so far. 

Is Banerjee dreaming to be prime minister?

Viewing the lacklustre performance of various regional parties in their recent assembly or local polls, Banerjee is confident of winning the maximum number of seats in 2019 crucial election, courtesy her dependable minority vote bank. Although these parties, wanting to constitute a ‘mahagathbandhan’ of sort, to jointly fight Modi’s formidable poll challenge, have failed to reach consensus on the modalities of forming the projected alliance, leaders like Banerjee, BSP chief Mayawati, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav, TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu seem to have cold-shouldered the move to post-poll possibilities. Although, as of now, it seems wholly beyond the realm of possibility that Modi will lose power in 2019, Banerjee still firmly believes that all parties will join hands in an alliance and she will be the eventual choice for the top job, given that her “TMC will bag the highest number of seats”. 

Wishful thinking apart, West Bengal under Didi has not gone any far from the days of the Communist rule which she demolished in 2011.The firebrand leader rose to power on the plank of a corruption-free governance and revival of the state economy with some hefty investments. Examine the corruption issue and she has the Saradha chit-fund scam and the Narada sting operation on offer. And ironically, the state’s ‘key investment’ in the last five years, remains the funding of the Narada-sting operation. Apart from some work in road maintenance and civic services, higher revenue collection and some pro-poor schemes, not much is seen as Banerjee’s notable achievement. Law and order situation is very poor. There have been dozens of riots in one year, most of them inspired by state. Hospitals are in bad shape. So, the state scenario is pitiably blush-making.

Under Banerjee, Bengal looks stagnating

Whenever Banerjee loses power, she will find herself terribly squeezed between corruption and non-performance while leaving office in disgust and frustration. Why? Because her overindulgence with minority appeasement left her with no time to administer her state. The political polarization she is trying to force on the state will take toll of her clout and dominance. It’s time she learns to be amiable with the Centre and improves her deliveries to people. She must recall that the Left Front seized power on the issue of land reforms and the registration of sharecroppers. And see the paradox, the Communists lost their hegemonic rule 33 years later, again on the issue of land acquisition for industry that almost dashed the state’s hopes for future industrialization. Unemployment reigned, institutions were eroded and the Communist rule was gone. As a rule, voters inflict punishment when rulers turn wayward and uncontrollably stubborn. 

Well, Mamata Banerjee is an angry and street-level politician whose credo has always been confrontation that spreads only hatred, bitterness and causes violence. Had it not been so, she would not have incited Bengal youth Congress activists to court death in police firing in 1993 and not asked her legislators to cause chaos in the state assembly, whenever she found herself politically compressed. Who has forgotten the days when as MP, she often abused the Speaker’s Chair in Lok Sabha and threw papers to denigrate the august office when advised to restrain herself. 

Didi’s duplicity comes to fore

And why did she hurl a sheaf of papers at the Speaker’s Chair in August 2005 and used abusive words against C S Atwal, who was then presiding over the House? She was disallowed to raise the “subject of illegal Bangladeshi migration.” Banerjee was furious because she saw the “Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” being a large vote bank of the then ruling Communist regime. She questioned the voters list that carried names of the “intruders” from Bangladesh and alleged that the Left Front government of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was “encouraging infiltration and had done nothing to check the flow of the illegal migrants.” Have a look at her duplicity: now, all infiltrations are “legal” for her!

Even as chief minister, Banerjee is known for provoking her TMC cadres to “fight the saffron rogues right in the streets.” That perhaps is the reason why Modi apparently feels that her repulsive and distasteful outbursts hardly merit a counter. He is now more or less convinced that her pursuit of low political discourse and appalling anti-Hindu prejudices are enough to cause her downfall in course of time. Polsters feel BJP will do “very well in Bengal this time.” At least one sees Bengali intellectuals “now admiring Modi’s transparency quotient.”