During the last few months, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has steadily been losing much of her grip both as the state’s chief administrator and as the unchallenged supremo within the Trinamool Congress( TMC) . This has already led to a major negative impact within the party, on the political plane. Senior ministers are beginning to speak out against their colleagues for their aimless functioning in the critical post- covid 19 pandemic/cyclone Amphan period, marking a dubious ‘first’ for their own party.
Even worse is the situation within the state administration. During the last few weeks, angry impatient policemen, terribly overstretched and overworked, have rebelled against worsening working conditions at least four times. Once, they beat up on a senior officer in Kolkata itself and he could barely escape to save himself! Such a major breakdown in police discipline and morale remains unparalleled in India.
Senior doctors have repeatedly protested against certain procedures adopted by the Bengal Government to fight off the Coronavirus challenge. Their critical statements and warnings on the Government’s handling of the Corona pandemic confirm the worst fears of opposition parties: this state Government is too inefficient to check an epidemic, which may result in untold miseries for the common people!
The critically important Health and Home departments on present evidence, have been functioning pretty wretchedly, but none dare say so . The explanation is simple: the seemingly above –all-criticism Chief Minister handles them herself!
For the moment, her loyalists seem more focused on the mounting public criticism of their party’s functioning from senior Trinamool Ministers rather than on her palpable failures as an administrative head. The performance of the state administration would be dealt with separately, for reasons of space.
The question that puzzles analysts is, how serious is the ambient inner-party rift within the TMC? How significant are the recent remarks made by senior Ministers Subrata Mukherjee or Mr Sadhan Pande, both targeting a high -profile Minister commonly perceived to be’ number 2 ‘, Mr Firhad Hakim? Both Mr Mukherjee and Mr Pande have referred pointedly to Mr Hakim’s abject failure in restoring minimal civil order following the devastation caused by the super cyclone Amphan on May 20. Earlier, former Mayor Sobhan Chatterjee had rubbed salt into Hakim’s wounds, decrying the stupefying lack of even minimal planning to deal with a natural emergency!
There is no clear answer. . Being a strict one-leader -centred party (‘outfit’ is more like it !) where today’s ruling favourites may become persona non grata tomorrow, the TMC is run on unorthodox lines defined more by one leader’s whims rather than any noticeable logic. From the start, inner workings within the TMC have resembled Byzantine intrigues of the bygone ages.
The pursuit of conspiratorial tactics within the TMC are traceable to its origin, within the Indian National Congress. To give only one example of how things are often run: Two of the most prominent youth leaders who were credited with reviving the INC’s flagging fortunes during the Left Front rule in Bengal devised an ingenious way to sniff out potential opponents and trouble makers. (One of them still serves as a senior Minister in the present Government !)
Their method was simple: each would badmouth the other while talking to suspected troublemakers, to draw them out. But every night they would phone each other and painstakingly exchange notes, to keep each other fully posted , in their battle against inner-party opponents !
Given this backdrop, TMC leaders are not yet certain whether state Ministers Messrs Mukherjee and Pandey have spoken out with prior imprimatur from their supremo! Their confusion is shared by some Kolkata-based analysts as well.
The fact remains that millions of people in Bengal were—and are — left unattended for days without power, water supply and even short of food, in many parts of south Bengal including greater Kolkata, for days on end. The situation began to improve only after the active involvement of army personnel and critical assistance provided by specially trained workers coming from neighbouring Odisha.
The ordeal of the people could have been eased only if the Chief Minister herself had asked for army help in time. No wonder many people are angry. For the first time during the TMC’s rule, they protested publicly all over South Bengal. And they shouted down even senior Ministers and police officials who tried to disperse them. Clearly the TMC’s failures had been exposed. Suddenly the Ministerial promises, announcements, denials and the transfer of officials etc did not mean a thing!
To sum up, the TMC is up against an existential challenge in Bengal, for the first time in its brief if spectacular, tenure. Analysts do not rule out the possibility of Mukherjee and Pande seeking to switch their political loyalties and join the BJP’s bandwagon. Significantly, while Pande got an immediate rap on his knuckles for his attack on Hakim, Mukherjee has not been pulled up—yet! Whether their rebellion is a well-planned exercise will become clear in the days ahead—especially if more TMC leaders begin to speak out.
For the moment, most observers rule out the second possibility—namely that Mukherjee and Pande have been set up as hardcore party loyalists tasked to ferret out potential malcontents.
Either way, the road ahead for the TMC seems to be dark and unclear, for now.
(Ashis Biswas, one of Bengal’s seniormost journalists, is now News Editor of Easternlink)