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Battle Over, War On

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The sordid episode concerning the chief secretary of West Bengal proves that while the battle for Bengal is over with the result of the assembly elections, the war continues. The BJP fought the assembly elections in West Bengal not like a normal election in a democracy but as a battle. Elections were held in five states simultaneously but nowhere were they fought as fiercely as in West Bengal.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah visited West Bengal almost daily to address massive gatherings of people. In fact, the massive crowd assembled to hear the prime minister in Asansol surprised even the PM and he could not but comment that he only saw people for as far as he could see. The threat of Covid was scattered to the winds by precisely those people who were charged with the responsibility of controlling it nationally. Any political party, any leader would certainly feel thrilled at the sight of such massive crowds and genuinely get the impression that the people of the state were with him. But in this case, the massive crowds did not gather spontaneously but were brought, using the massive resources of the BJP. I am personally aware that people from Jharkhand were taken to neighbouring areas in West Bengal to swell the gatherings. The loyalty of such crowds is fickle. This has been proved time and again.

Why did Modi/Shah make the West Bengal assembly elections so personal, so much a matter of prestige? Because they saw what few of us saw then. No state leader would be as much of a threat to them in 2024 as Mamata Banerjee if she won the 2021 assembly elections in West Bengal. So, she had to be stopped at all cost. My friends in the BJP tell me that the resources deployed by the party in this election were mind-boggling. Nothing was spared, no stone left unturned to influence the outcome of the elections. Finally, nothing worked because the people of West Bengal had made up their mind to give Mamata Banerjee and her party another term. And here lies the lesson for 2024. If people make up their mind then there is nothing which the party in power can do.

But let us return to the theme of West Bengal. The battle is over but as I have noted earlier, the war continues. It is clear from the way the Modi/Shah regime is behaving that they would not, never leave Mamata in peace in Bengal. Like elsewhere, West Bengal is also facing the problem of Covid. In addition, it is facing cyclones. The monsoon is round the corner and it will create its own problems; then there are issues of development, of law and order and of other welfare measures for the people. Governance is not child’s play. So what is the Modi/Shah plan? The plan clearly is to create as many problems for Mamata as possible so she is not able to deliver. Rile her; annoy her; displease her; humiliate her; and when she reacts, use “Godi media” to project her as temperamental and undependable.

Modi himself was chief minister of Gujarat for almost a decade-and-a-half. So, he should know how the government at the Centre could create problems for a state government. In addition, he has no use for constitutional norms, practices and precedents. He can be ruthless in suppressing and destroying his “enemies”. Mamata is his enemy number one today, because she has beaten him at the hustings. So, she must be taught a lesson. The latest episode regarding the chief secretary of West Bengal clearly shows that the “Sultan of Delhi” will not play by the rules. Making a politician play by the rules is the responsibility of the senior civil servants advising the government. In the case of the chief secretary of West Bengal, either they did not have the courage to give correct advice (a disaster, if true) or their advice was ignored, again a matter of serious concern.

Rulers come and go. But if the institutions of democracy are destroyed then it takes time to restore them. We have a regime today where the top person does not care. He is so confident of the abiding support of the people of this country that he can commit any excess and get away with it. The thousands of crores of rupees being spent in Covid times on the Central Vista project is a case in point. Only a most insensitive, uncaring and ruthless ruler could do a thing like this. But the damage it will do to our polity will be far greater than the money wasted on one man’s folly. I suggest that future prime ministers should avoid occupying that building and it should forever stand as a monument dedicated to an autocrat; an abiding stain in the face of our democracy, much worse than the declared Emergency of 1975.

Meanwhile, the people of India must be informed of the true state of affairs of our republic; the loss of lives through the sheer mismanagement of the pandemic, the unprecedented collapse of the economy, the loss of jobs, the destruction of businesses, the short shrift to the states and the erosion of the federal structure. There is too much at stake today than merely the future of West Bengal. But once again, what happens in Bengal will determine the future of India.

Courtesy – https://indianexpress.com/

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