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President's Rule in Bengal? BJP could use latest violence to bring down Mamata

Anurag Dey | Updated on: 5 July 2017, 20:51 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may use the latest spate of communal violence in West Bengal to bring down one of its most vocal critics, Mamata Banerjee.

A day after the West Bengal Chief Minister accused Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi of threatening her and acting like a 'BJP functionary', the BJP is all set to go on a counter-offensive, seeking the dismissal of the Trinamool Congress regime in the state.

Contending that the Trinamool's 'politics of appeasement' and 'patronage to jihadi elements' has led to the complete collapse of administration in Bengal, BJP leaders say the imposition of President's Rule is unavoidable.

The incident

An inflammatory Facebook post on Sunday reportedly enraged a large section of the population in Bengal's North 24 Parganas district. A mob ran amok on Monday, torching of several vehicles and shops, and ransacking a police station. Violence continued despite the arrest of the person allegedly responsible for the Facebook post.

The state government clamped prohibitory orders and suspended internet services in the region. At its request, the Centre rushed paramilitary personnel to the disturbed area.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday sought a report from the state government over the incident.

CM-Governor tussle

On Tuesday, Banerjee was allegedly confronted by Governor Tripathi over the phone about the ongoing strife. Afterwards, the CM, addressing a media meet, launched a high-decibel attack on the Governor.

“He has threatened me and talked to me like a block president of the BJP,” Banerjee said, claiming that at one point, she was “unable to take the humiliation and felt like quitting”.

“He is showing me law and order. When any small incident happens, BJP workers hand him a piece of paper and he speaks what not,” she said, referring to Baduria – the epicentre of the communal flare up.

The Raj Bhavan promptly denied the Chief Minister's charges, and expressed surprise at her “attitude and language”. Banerjee's outburst also attracted a severe reaction from the BJP.

But, undeterred, Trinamool members have continued to attack Tripathi.

Rajya Sabha member Derek O'Brien said it was time for the 'Governor-turned-RSS Shakha Pramukh to go'.

“The Raj Bhavan in Bengal has converted into an RSS shakha. It's almost like all the bedsheets and towels and everything in Raj Bhavan now have BJP logos. The Governor is not sounding like a Governor anymore. He is sounding like a shakha pramukh,” O'Brien wrote on Facebook.

“It is worth considering asking this Governor to get on a bike and leave; it is time for him to go,” he added.

The party has also lodged a complaint against Tripathi with President Pranab Mukherjee.

“The governor has humiliated the Chief Minister and the people of the state. He overstepped his limits and behaved like a BJP representative,” said Trinamool general secretary Partha Chatterjee, who informed the press about about the letter to President Mukherjee, a copy of which has also been sent to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

The Governor's office retorted by dismissing the Trinamool's charges, and asked Banerjee to concentrate on maintaining law and order.

“It is wrong to say that Raj Bhavan has become the office of the BJP or the RSS. The Governor further reiterates that he did not utter a single word to insult or threaten the Chief Minister. Her allegation is baseless and meant only to emotionally blackmail the people of West Bengal,” a Raj Bhavan statement read.

“The Governor says that instead of making accusations against him, it is better for the Chief Minister and her colleagues to direct their attention to maintain peace and law and order in the state, without making any distinction on the basis of caste, creed or community.”

BJP reiterates Prez Rule demand

Taking a strong offence to Banerjee's remarks, the BJP is now targeting Trinamool over the Darjeeling unrest, and growing communal strife in the state.

Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said the imposition of President's Rule was necessary.

“The only way to save Bengal is the dismissal of the Mamata government. We have been demanding President's Rule in Bengal for some time. From the hills to the plains, from north to south, the entire state is burning. Going by the prevalent scenario in the state, we are confident none can disagree with our demand,” said Ghosh.

BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya added: “The whole world witnessed the colorful language Banerjee used. Her anger is because the Governor performed his constitutional duty and enquired about the (Baduria) incident. The outburst is a testimony to what we have been saying – she has lost control of the state.

“Bengal was already bereft of democracy and law and order has been the biggest casualty under Mamata's regime. Her vote-bank politics has completely changed the demography in border areas, and now, has become a threat to national security. Things have gone too far, there is absolutely no governance in the state. Mamata has completely lost control. President's Rule is the only way out.”

A senior leader of the state BJP also claimed that once the party's choice, Ram Nath Kovind, is elected the President of India on 17 July, as looks inevitable, it would be easy to impose President's Rule.

Why the time is ripe

Amid state leaders' persistent calls for using Article 356 in Bengal, the BJP had thus far been looking the other way. This was because the party does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, and needed to get some reforms through Parliament.

But now, with a majority of the reforms, including GST, now out of the way, the party central leadership may now go for the kill.

Professor Biswanath Chakraborty of Kolkata's Rabindra Bharati University said the time is ripe for the BJP to go all out and corner Trinamool in its own den.

“Having tasted success with three seats in the Assembly polls, the BJP is going all out to overcome its final frontier – Bengal. While its efficacy may be debated, but President's Rule, as a pressure tactic, can crumble the Trinamool. Also, the Trinamool should now be more wary of central probe agencies,” he said.

The Trinamool, though, is unperturbed, and says it's ready to face the BJP democratically.

“They have been using pressure tactics one after the other. Be it using the CBI or the ED as a political tool, or bypassing Parliament for their anti-people policies, BJP has been doing all to murder democracy. We are ready to face them,” said a Trinamool MP, reacting to the BJP's call.

Mamata's discomfort

Banerjee, one of the most vocal critics of Narendra Modi and his policies, has been persistent in her attacks against the saffron brigade. However, her 'unprecedented' outburst against Tripathi, some feel, is indicative of her discomfort about the BJP's rise in Bengal.

Probing the Saradha Group and other chit fund scams, the CBI and ED have arrested and interrogated a host of Trinamool leaders, including MPs and state ministers, prompting the Trinamool to accuse the Modi government of using Central agencies to stifle the Opposition.

During Banerjee's intense anti-demonetisation protest in January, Trinamool Lok Sabha members Tapas Paul and Sudip Bandyopadhyay were arrested by the CBI for their alleged complicity in the Rose Valley scam.

Banerjee has, however, found support from Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, who said: “A Governor threatening a chief minister is a situation more alarming than the Emergency.”

First published: 5 July 2017, 20:51 IST