Why Mamata Banerjee won’t attend Modi’s swearing-in? Didi’s dharna for ‘ghar wapasi’ has more than meets the eye

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Published: May 30, 2019 7:11:38 PM

West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee turned down the invitation to attend Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony.

Mamata BanerjeeWest Bengal Chief Minister and TMC Supremo Mamata Banerjee during interaction with media at her residence in Kolkata. (PTI Photo)

As Narendra Modi rises to take oath for a second term as the Prime Minister, Mamata Banerjee will be alongside leaders of her party doing what she does the best.

West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has finally turned down the invitation to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. After the bitter campaign led by Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi and her in the run-up to the final phases, it came as nothing short of a surprise when Mamata agreed to consider attending the ceremony. However, BJP’s move to include over 50 special invitees in the guest list for the ceremony appears to have left the Bengal CM peeved. Over 50 individuals from West Bengal, family members of BJP workers killed in cold blood allegedly by workers of Trinamool Congress, have been invited to attend the ceremony for the inauguration of the Modi government, a move seen as the party’s message to its cadre as well as to its adversaries.

Having turned down the offer to attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, Mamata has now set off on the task to counter the narrative that the BJP has tried to set in West Bengal this election. The BJP’s messaging that the TMC resorted to political killings to curtail its rise is something Mamata would like to get off her back. It’s the same narrative that she peddled during her fight against the Left and would not take kindly to the BJP deploying a similar ploy. As expected, Mamata has brushed off the allegation of any political killing — she said these deaths were on account of personal enmity or other reasons; they were anything but politically motivated.

So, as PM-elect Narendra Modi takes the podium at Rashtrapati Bhawan in the biggest event the venue has ever seen, leaders of the TMC will be sitting on a dharna in the state’s North 24 Parganas district in protest against violence perpetrated by BJP workers following the declaration of election results. TMC has alleged that offices of the party and residences of their workers have been ransacked by BJP workers. TMC workers, the party alleged, have been rendered homeless and are afraid to return to their homes fearing further backlash.

More than meets the eye

The real reason behind Mamata’s recent aggression is not just limited to the fate of her party workers. The results of the Lok Sabha elections and the exodus of its leaders to the BJP — three MLAs and 52 councillors have joined in the last 72 hours — reveals much of its nervousness. The developments, following the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections where the BJP made significant inroads in Mamata’s citadel, winning 18 of the 42 parliamentary seats in the state, up from 2 in the previous elections, only adds to Mamata’s worries. The BJP’s vote share also jumped from 17.2% in 2014 to 40.3% in 2019. As per post-poll surveys, while the traditional vote base of Left has moved towards BJP, there is also a visible shift in the voter’s preference which is troubling Mamata.

According to a Lokniti-CSDS survey published by The Hindu, the BJP has managed to make inroads in the northern and western parts of the state while the Trinamool Congress managed to hold its south Bengal bastion. While the verdict was in line with what was a heavily polarised election, the BJP has made tremendous gains when it comes to upper castes, OBCs, Dalits and Adivasis.

Barring Muslims — their percentage of votes for the TMC grew from 40% to 70% since the last elections — all other community groups voted in larger numbers for the BJP than in 2014. While 57% Hindus voted for the BJP (21% voted in 2014), vote share among upper castes went up from 24% to 57%. A resounding 65% of the OBCs voted for BJP against compared to 21% in 2014, 61% of the Dalits voted BJP against 20% last time and 58% adivasis polled for the BJP, up from 11% in the last general election.

While the figures show a paradigm shift in the voting pattern, except for the Muslim vote, the survey also showed that the PM’s campaign, where he repeatedly referred to Mamata as “speed breaker Didi” or cited her alleged aversion to chants of “Jai Shri Ram”, worked in favour of the party. The Prime Minister addressed 17 rallies as part of his campaign. As per the CSDS survey, 48% of those who decided who to vote for during the campaign ended up voting for the BJP.

Why North 24 Parganas

As per Anand Bazar Patrika, Mamata Banerjee is yet to arrive at the venue where TMC leaders are sitting on dharna in Naihati area of the district. North 24 Parganas, the largest district in the country in terms of population, was a stronghold of Mamata’s estranged ally Mukul Roy. After defeating the Left in the state, TMC had made North 24 Parganas as its citadel that appeared next to impossible to breach. Other than Mukul Roy and his son Shubranshu, who joined the BJP earlier this week, the district is also home to former TMC strongman Arjun Singh who is now the BJP MP from Barrackpur.

Mamata knows that with the kind of leaders that Modi has on his side, North 24 Parganas can soon turn vulnerable for poaching, a move that could see her party cede ground to the BJP which is making steady inroads into the state. With the Assembly elections in the state not too far off, Mamata knows that any complacency will allow Modi-Shah’s mean election-winning machinery to make its way further into her party’s longheld citadel.

Mamata’s decision to stay away from the swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister-elect has less to do with the anger over the invitation to families of slain BJP workers and more of a strategic move to send out a signal to her party’s rank and file. Keeping her own house in order and arresting the exodus of leaders from her party is what will be her immediate priority. Her sulking over the politicisation of a constitutional event should best be taken with a pinch of salt.

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