Still coming to terms with the huge electoral inroads by the BJP in West Bengal, winning 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, Mamata Banerjee on Saturday said that she wanted to quit as chief minister but after Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders objected, she will continue — provided “we all stand together and protest”.
She also accused the Election Commission (EC) of working in a partisan manner in West Bengal, and the BJP of playing communal politics to woo voters in the state.
BJP in backyard, a little change in focus
West Bengal CM and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee’s announcement that the party will be her priority from now is a telling sign of the inroads the party feels the BJP has made in the state’s politics. Two years before West Bengal heads for Vidhan Sabha polls, the BJP is a force to reckon with — a force possibly much bigger than what the Left Front-Congress combine appeared to the TMC leadership in 2016. With Banerjee making it clear that an increase in vote share is the only way to take on the BJP, it appears the TMC chief feels it’s time to bring back her feisty avatar from the Opposition days and hit the streets.
Addressing the media after holding a meeting with TMC leaders at her residence in Kolkata to introspect on the election results, Banerjee said she will now devote more time to party work. West Bengal is scheduled to hold Assembly elections in 2021.
She also announced major changes in party positions and said that candidates who lost in the Lost Sabha polls will take over as TMC district unit presidents and chairpersons of different development boards.
The TMC won 22 seats this time, 12 fewer than its 2014 tally.
Banerjee said: “I have fulfilled commitments made in our (2016 Vidhan Sabha election) manifesto — from good roads, rice at Rs 2 per kg, Sabuj Sathi bicycles (distributed to students of class IX to XII), to free treatment for the poor, it has all been implemented. I have (so far) been busy with government work; from now I will give more time to the party.”
On her offer to step down as chief minister, Banerjee told the media: “I have told my party leaders that I have been unable to work for five months – I was a powerless CM under the mercy of the Election Commission (EC). I cannot accept that. I do not want to continue as chief minister — the chair is of no importance. For me, the party symbol is important.”
But, she said, TMC leaders “objected” to this offer. “I told them I can continue, but (only) if we all stand together and protest. Our vote share has increased by 4 per cent. If it increases further, we need not worry about BJP or the Left.”
Taking on the EC, Banerjee said that she could not work as the chief minister for two months “unofficially”, and that the EC did not let her work for three months officially. The BJP, she maintained, has been successful “only through communal politics — they divided Hindus and Muslims, Bengali-speaking people and Hindi-speaking people…. I can never stoop to that level.”
Asked whether she will cooperate with the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, Banerjee said, “If they take constructive steps, we will cooperate. We have always done so. But if they take destructive steps, we will not cooperate.”