With the big Lok Sabha election due in 2019, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has emerged as a key player in stitching together an anti-BJP umbrella alliance of opposition parties to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has asked Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislators, office bearers and activists to retrospect. Lashing out at leaders during a meeting of the party’s extended core committee in Kolkata on Thursday, Mamata warned party workers and leaders to desist from infighting and complacency and exhorted them to work unitedly.
“We had formed the party (TMC) after years of struggle. We have come to power with the people’s support. If some (party cadre) think they are bigger than the party, the doors are open for them to leave. Only Mamata Banerjee will work and others will enjoy the fruits of being in power — that cannot be the way,” CM Banerjee said. “Those who are making money in the name of the party should stop such things. This will not be tolerated. There are leaders who are only busy in getting new posts. I ask them to reach out to the masses and if they are unwilling to do so, they are free to leave the TMC,” she asserted.
As she engaged in one-on-one interaction with key leaders, her tone reflected the unease over the steady rise of the BJP in West Bengal. During the meeting, Mamata accused a section of the party workers in the tribal Junglemahal area of remaining inactive during last month’s panchayat polls, which she said had led to the TMC’s defeat in some of the seats. Stating that some in the party did not work “properly”, she said, “Nobody should think that they are above the party. You should remember that two ministers have recently resigned for the party’s poor performance in the panchayat polls.”
Banerjee’s comments came after Tribal Development Minister James Kujur and Backward Class Development Minister Churamani Mahato were asked to resign from their posts on June 5 in the backdrop of the BJP increasing its vote-share in the rural polls in the Junglemahal area, particularly in Purulia and Jhargram where tribals form the sizeable portion of electorates. Apart from this, the three Junglemahal districts — West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura — which were once hit by Maoist activities, witnessed violent clashes during the panchayat polls.
In the recently concluded Panchayat elections, BJP comfortably cemented its position as the numero uno opposition party replacing the ersrtwhile ruling party CPI(M). In Purulia, BJP wrested control in nine out of 40 zilla parishad seats. Apart from this, BJP also won four panchayat samitis and 60 out of 144 gram panchayats in this district, where tribals constitute 20 per cent of the population.
BJP also bagged 329 out of 806 gram panchayat seats in Jhargram, a tribal dominated area, garnering 42 per cent of vote share against the 48 per cent that TMC got winning 373 seats. Apart from these two districts, BJP managed to fare well in districts like Bankura, Jalpaiguri, South and North Dinajpur, according to local media reports. The trend of BJP’s ever-increasing popularity and vote share have been witnessed since the 2014 Lok Sabha, when it had a vote share of 17.5 per cent, an all-time best in the state by the saffron party.
Although the vote share took a dip in the 2016 assembly polls tp 10.2 per cent, for the first time it had won three seats fighting on its own.
Banerjee, a seasoned politician could not afford to ignore the vital statistics as the 42 Lok Sabha seats from the state will be crucial in propelling her to play a pivotal role next year. Sensing a sense of dissatisfaction among the state’s middle-class citizens, the past few days have seen the West Bengal government announce some highly populist moves. She has announced an additional 18 per cent dearness allowance (DA) for the state government employees, effective from January next.
Further trying to woo the rural middle-class voters, she has announced a scheme named “Nijashree”. Under this scheme, the government would sell 50,000 1-BHK and 2-BHK flats at subsidised rates. As per reports, 1-BHK flats would be sold at Rs 7.28 lakh and 2-BHK flats would be sold at Rs 9.26 lakh for residents of the state who fall under the salary bracket of Rs 15,000 and Rs 30,000.
According to senior TMC leaders who did not wish to be named, the recent spate of a reshuffle in the state cabinet and some local bodies is a hint that the party is planning to overhaul the organisation at various levels to counter the BJP factor.