Having firmed her grip on power in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is out to "decimate" the CPM and the Congress. In just four months after winning another term, her Trinamool Congress has poached three MLAs from the Congress, one from the CPM and a CPM-backed independent.
On Monday, Manas Bhunia, a former state Congress chief, joined the TMC, prompting his party to move the Supreme Court seeking changes to the anti-defection law.
By effecting defections from the CPM and the Congress, the ruling party has taken control of several municipalities as well as the zilla parishads in Malda, Murshidabad and Jalpaiguri. The opposition parties have accused the TMC of using "foul play, police threats, false cases and lure of money and power" to poach their people.
Such blatant horse-trading may display a Machiavellian astuteness on part of the TMC, but it's symptomatic of a larger problem: the erosion of democratic ethics and degeneration of Bengal's polity.
Allegedly, elected opposition leaders are compelled to kowtow to the TMC, otherwise they are not allowed to function. For instance, funds are held back, as was pointed out by BJP MP Babul Supriyo earlier this year. The central minister had claimed he could not get any developmental work done in his Asansol constituency "due to the non-cooperation of local bodies" ruled by the TMC.
Similar experiences have been recounted by others. "Our apartment complex has over 50 flats. We had asked the local Congress councillor to arrange for a garbage vat exclusively for us. But we got to know our councillor is joining the TMC next month. He will be able to help only after he switches parties," said a resident of West Midnapore who asked not to be identified.
Such arm-twisting by the TMC runs counter to every democratic ethic one expects in politics.
To top it, senior TMC leaders such as Mukul Roy, Suvendu Adhikari and Abhishek Banerjee have publicly bragged about this and even announced their intention to wrest control of many more municipalities by next year. At the same time, Adhikari and Abhishek have claimed, without a hint of irony, that opposition leaders are joining their party to "partake in the development" ushered in by Mamata Banerjee.
Since ensconcing itself in power, the TMC has spawned a culture in which every norm of political behaviour is treated with derision; there's little space even for decency in politics now. While Mamata's first term was marked by her party's capture of political, social and cultural institutions as well as the bureaucracy, this term is seemingly devoted to capturing the opposition.
In its decades in power, the CPM had done no better even though the party did its machinations more subtly (arguably one of the reasons it survived in power for so long). The TMC doesn't do subtle. The party is not only brutal, it wants to be seen as such, not least by the opposition. Could this, however, be its downfall?