Mamata Banerjee’s confrontational politics is likely to bruise her, not the Election Commission.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the Election Commission has few parallels or precedents in Indian politics. She has dared the EC to transfer eight local officials out of the state, asserting that she was responsible for law and order and not a single person would go. She tore into the EC for “listening to the Congress” alone and also accused the CPM, Congress and BJP, arch rivals across India, as well as media houses and the Central government, of getting together to undermine her.
While the EC has warned it can go to the extent of cancelling Lok Sabha elections in this region of West Bengal, Banerjee has claimed she is ready to go to jail over this position, and has named and attacked EC officials. The commission’s decision to shift officials to ensure fair conduct of polls is not new, nor is the political opposition to it. But Banerjee’s stand is breathtaking in its temerity and typical of her approach to administration.
Last year, she had defied the state election commission over the timing of panchayat polls and the deployment of Central paramilitary forces, until the court reminded her of the law that governs such elections and validated the state EC’s decision. Then and now, Banerjee’s actions are not that of a desperate politician trying to stage-manage the elections for her own ends. After all, she comfortably won 13 of the 17 zilla parishads, and the Trinamool Congress is projected as the leading candidate in the region in this Lok Sabha election.
In other words, this defiance of the EC is not the response of someone with their back to the wall — it is the defining pattern of her politics that has remained unchanging even after she came to power in 2011 in a historic victory, unseating the 34-year old Left dispensation after years of mobilisation in West Bengal.
The effect of those years seems to be that she cannot function without creating an enemy in her mind and warring ceaselessly with it. She chooses not to believe in any neutral arbiter. Any criticism or interrogation of her government’s actions is personalised and demonised. The CM has accused television anchors, rape victims, email-forwarders and other citizens of being motivated by the opposition’s interests.
In fact, the “opposition” is also loosely defined — it is a stew of malign forces, dominated by the Left, but also likely to feature Maoists, the Centre, and others. The EC is only the latest in a line of voodoo dolls. But this challenge is likely to bruise Banerjee more than anyone else, unless she moderates her position.