West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party Trinamool Congress (TMC) have had an eventful 2018. Through the year, we saw Mamata Banerjee’s stature grow as she steadily projected herself for a role in national politics. On the domestic front, TMC won key elections that also saw the rise of a new challenger in the form of BJP which overtook the Left and launched a high-octane campaign against Banerjee and her party. In spite of the victories that the Trinamool Congress had in due course of the year, it has struggled to rework its image over allegations of use of violence during polls.
Mamata Banerjee has remained a vociferous critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP’s decisions and policies. This year, she stepped up the attack and took the lead to stitch a united opposition against the saffron party. She was seen meeting leaders who spoke against BJP and congralutated the Congress and other opposition parties on every defeat of BJP.
However, she also kept opposition parties, chiefly the Congress, guessing as she personally kept away from major opposition events other than attending a mega opposition gathering during the swearing-in ceremony of HD Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru and a few other events. She was also not in favour of announcing Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial candidate of opposition for 2019 and has lately courted leaders who have been calling for a non-BJP, non-Congress third front.
2018 for TMC: Victories, court visits and Yatras
January-March: The year began on a positive note for TMC. It had managed to retain Uluberia Lok Sabha and wrest control of the Noapara assembly constituency from the Congress during the one-sided bypolls. The big-margin victories gave TMC leaders the confindence as they started talking about to posing a tough challenge to BJP in 2019. Meanewhile, BJP stepped up its activities in the state as Amit Shah made visits to the state and set a target of winning 22 out of total 42 Lok Sabha seats. Clashes between BJP and TMC erupted over celebrations in Ram Navami that deaths of people.
Arguably among the most violence-marred phases in the political history of West Bengal, the Panchayat polls in the state saw frequent clashes and Calcutta High Court and Supreme Court’s intervention. The panchayat polls were termed by the BJP as the big fight before the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections and 2021 Assembly polls. However, starting from the announcement of schedule, the entire election process from filing of nomination to voting, violence mired the TMC’s unprecedented victory. Trinamool Congress bagged over 20,000 of the 58,692 Panchayat seats. No party ever won such seats without contest in Bengal. BJP emerged the distant second party in the seat tally but gave a stiff fight and bagged seats in districts like Purulia and South 24 Parganas.
TMC continued its winning run as it bagged Maheshtala assembly after winning the bypoll. However, the conflict started as festival season began. After Ram Navami, TMC saw right-wing organisations organising rallies as tension brewed. Then came the Durga Puja, the biggest festival of Bengalis, and TMC leaders led by CM Banerjee were seen wooing voters by unveiling idols and inaugurating pandals.
CM Banerjee was seen congratulating Congress for its victories in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In the meantime, BJP and TMC were engaged in a bitter court battle over the former’s proposed Rath Yatra. The TMC Supremo has also called a mega opposition rally which is slated to be held at the Brigade Grounds in Kolkata on January 19 and asserted that most of the parties will attend the event.