West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s strategy of going easy on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and adopting a tough stance against Union Home Minister Amit Shah has raised questions about her motives. The CM’s comment on Modi has drawn criticism from Opposition parties such as the Congress and the CPI(M).
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief’s remark, which her party claimed was part of an intelligent two-pronged strategy, came weeks after her qualified praise for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). On Monday, she told the Assembly that she believed Modi was not behind the alleged misuse of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and alleged it was the handiwork of some BJP leaders, with the insinuation, according to political observers, being that Shah was to be blamed.
“I don’t believe the prime minister is doing all this (misusing the agencies). CBI and ED are not under him … All are under Home Ministry … all is being done by BJP leaders,” Banerjee told the House, which passed a resolution against what it termed the “partial role of CBI, ED, IT and other central agencies”.
Earlier this month, the CM said at a press conference, “RSS wasn’t that bad earlier. I don’t believe that they (RSS) are bad. Still, there are many good people in RSS and they don’t support BJP.” Her critics reacted sharply to the comment, pointing out that it was not the first time she had “praised” the RSS. They said Banerjee had praised the RSS at a rally of the TMC Chhatra Parishad, the party’s students’ wing, in 2018 and called the BJP’s ideological fountainhead an organisation of “patriots” in 2003.
In contrast, both Banerjee and her party have been scathing in their attacks on Amit Shah. Earlier this month, the TMC launched a campaign targeting the home minister. The party brought out T-shirts labelling Amit Shah “India’s Biggest Pappu”. In May, the CM lashed out at Shah, saying, “Apart from targeting Opposition leaders through agencies such as the CBI and the ED, he has done nothing as the home minister.”
While the TMC defended Banerjee’s comments, CPI(M) and the Congress lashed out at the CM. They had also criticised her soft approach toward the BJP when the TMC abstained from the vice-presidential elections that former West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar won. Dhankhar, whose tenure in Bengal was marked by frequent run-ins with the TMC government, expressed “gratitude” towards Banerjee on Tuesday for the TMC’s decision to abstain from the polls.
“It is basically a lena-dena (give and take) approach. It has been a Team B or Team C of the RSS. We are not surprised, this is who Mamata is. The TMC was formed as an offshoot of the RSS in 1998. It helped the BJP and the RSS grow in Bengal. Now, she wants to ensure that top leadership of the BJP helps her nephew come out unscathed from corruption allegations,” said CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty.
Congress spokesperson Soumya Aich Roy said, “It is not new to us that Mamata Banerjee is a BJP ally. She projects herself as the face of anti-BJP forces but is controlled by the BJP and the RSS. After all, she is ‘Durga’ of RSS.”
Roy was referring to BJP and RSS leaders calling Banerjee Durga at the 2003 event in which she called the Sangh an organisation of “patriots”.
Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari of the BJP claimed the CM was “trying to please the prime minister, thinking it will save her nephew (Abhishek Banerjee) from central agencies, but that will not happen”.
A senior TMC leader said, “The state government has been going through a financial crisis and the main cause is the Central government stopping their share of funds in MGNREGS because of allegations of corruption. To overcome this situation, the CM wanted to make the prime minister happy and that is why she praised him. However, by criticising Amit Shah and other BJP leaders she simultaneously keeps up her attacks on the BJP.”
A senior functionary close to Abhishek said there was a difference between Modi and Shah. “We are trying to capitalise on their differences. You can recollect that already Abhishek Banerjee came out with a campaign saying Amit Shah is the ‘biggest Pappu of India’. We are now focusing on Shah because he is the main man behind the CBI and the ED.”