Paschimbanga Elections and Indian National Politics

Jayanta Ghosal

10 May, 2021 12:00 AM printer

After Paschimbanga Vidhan Sabha elections, I took part in a panel discussion of News 24, the electronic channel of the East West Media Group of Dhaka. Analysis of polls result was the main topic of that discussion. Naturally, the interest of Bangladesh was centred towards the citizenship bill and the Teesta accord. There was an opportunity of open discussion. On the day, what I wanted to tell about a general conception of abrupt implementation of the citizenship bill once the BJP ascends to power. As per announcement of the Indian home minister, the first decision of the cabinet would be to implement the bill. In Bangladesh, there was a common concern for the citizenship bill. If the BJP really implements the bill then it will be tough enough for Bangladesh to digest it. As the BJP is out of power in Paschimbanga, the general people of Bangladesh have heaved a sigh of relief.

There was a misconception that once the BJP ascends to power, signing of the Teesta accord will be done expeditiously as per Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s theory of double engine. In such a manner, lots of projects have been implemented in Tripura with Bangladesh. But, my version is a bit different what I modestly informed during the News 24 channel discussion. I again inform it now that it is a mere simplicity to think about abrupt signing of Teesta accord following the BJP’s ascension to power in Paschimbanga. The reason is the inability to understand the situation prevailing in Paschimbanga from Dhaka or New Delhi. Politically, the BJP wants popularity in Uttarbanga (North Bengal). It wanted to occupy the seat. In Uttarbanga, many voters remained away from casting votes for the BJP after the publicity of possibility of signing of Teesta accord once the party ascends to power in Paschimbanga. The BJP failed to score what it did in 2019; rather the Trinamool Congress got back its lost glory. So, I am in doubt about signing of the Teesta deal even after the BJP’s ascension to power in Paschimbanga. This is because of a local political compulsion. Again, I don’t think that the Teesta accord would not be signed after Mamata Banerjee’s third-term victory in the state. It is my assumption that Mamata Banerjee is interested enough in national politics. There is an effort of building a consensus among all opposition parties against Narendra Modi under leadership of Mamata Banerjee. In that case, it has become essential on the part of Mamata Banerjee to create a good relationship among the neighbouring countries, especially with Bangladesh. During polls period, Mamata Banerjee chanted the ‘Joy Bangla’ slogan. Her personal relationship with Sheikh Hasina remains intact. That is the relationship of love. Whenever Sheikh Hasina phoned Mamata Banerjee, she got overwhelmed. I have an opportunity of observing Mamata Banerjee too closely. When Sheikh Hasina was an opposition leader, she came to Delhi where she resided at the Ashoka Hotel. Being a member of parliament (MP), Mamata went to meet her. Sheikh Rehana was present there. Sheikh Hasina’s close friend, also journalist and writer, Baby Moudud, was also there. The chatting lasted till deep night. Because of opposing the Teesta deal, a communication error was created in the interest of a sovereign state. If Delhi pursues a cordial centre-state relationship instead of following a conflicting path, then Mamata Banerjee might respond positively during the first half of her third innings. In that case if it is done by maintaining Track-2 diplomacy through the help of right personalities then it has a possibility.

The reason of my positive assertion is that a committee was formed with Kalyan Rudra over the Teesta issue. In that committee report, it was clearly stated that if the centre allots a large amount of money for Paschimbanga to create some reservoirs. And if the reservoirs are created properly then it would guarantee that the state would not face water crisis during lean season. At the same time, the water crisis of Bangladesh will be resolved. There was a proposal of involving the chief minister of Sikkim. However, it remained unimplemented despite Dhaka tour of the PM and Mamata Banerjee. When Premier Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee visited Dhaka together, I was a member of the entourage. At that time, I found an atmosphere of consensus between the prime minister and Mamata Banerjee over Bangladesh. But, that situation did not last after a political conflict between the BJP and the Trinamool.

Now, let me tell about the influence of this election on national politics. In Paschimbanga, the BJP emerged as the main political opposition party. A rightwing political force emerged for the first time in Paschimbanga. It has occupied 77 seats. Originally, it had three seats. In the next five years, the BJP will surely play an aggressive role. This polling has effectively exterminated the Congress and the CPM. Just after the independence, it was probably for the first time such a situation was created where no left-leaning party member exists. It is indeed a challenge for Mamata Banerjee to counter the aggressive BJP. On the other side, it is not an objective of Mamata to involve in a conflict with the centre by pursuing an anti-Modi politics. The year 2024 is still far away. During the corona period, the economy has dwindled; shortage of food and people’s wailing pervade the villages. In this situation, political vengeance should be stopped at any cost. If it is not stopped and if it turns into communal violence then the ruling party will be the major loser. So, Mamata is aware enough. It is not her political strategy to get involved in opposition politics before resolving the issues.

Why then BJP is vocal over political vengeance? There lies a national political theory behind it. Narendra Modi has two objectives. Firstly, he wants to kill the cat on the very first night so that the opposition parties cannot get united under Mamata’s leadership before 2024. Secondly, Mamata has taken oath in blood-stained Bengal. If this message can be established in the national perspective then opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Stalin and Kejriwal can’t stand by Mamata. On the issue of political vengeance, she can be easily abandoned.

For the time being, it is the political strategy of the BJP. And, in such a situation, when former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and ex-OSD of the BJP, Sudhir Kulkarni, write that Mamata is a worthy claimant of the prime minister post then the BJP politics too becomes more active. In this situation, Mamata wants to follow the ‘go slow’ policy. Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha polls will be held in next year. Not only in Uttar Pradesh, voting will be held in some other states starting from Gujarat to Jammu and Kashmir. The performance of the BJP in these elections is yet to be ascertained.  It is to be watched, especially in Uttar Pradesh, whether the BJP is able to sustain under the leadership of Yogi Adityanath, or the political arena is occupied by opposition leaders like Akhilesh or Mayawati? Mamata Banerjee wants to see all these things before anything. It is true that Mamata wants to float an opposition coalition. She will maintain communications with others. The  UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, is sick. So, the UPA should be enlivened. It has become essential to make a new convener. There, Mamata Banerjee can play an active role. But not more than that. Mamata does not intend to make a hue and cry going to New Delhi. It is an urgency to formulate a political strategy for an understanding with the centre instead of involving in a conflict with it. This understanding is also essential for administrative interest. It is also an urgency to move forward the Indo-Bangladesh relationship. It is also a must for signing the Teesta deal. Mamata Banerjee also got a positive response from Dhaka. Sheikh Hasina herself issued a statement. The foreign minister too gave a statement. Different news media of Bangladesh underscored the need of Indo-Bangladesh friendship.          

While congratulating Mamata Banerjee, the Bangladesh foreign minister issued a statement saying that the Trinamool Congress has been able to win people’s mandate for the third consecutive term, which testifies to people’s confidence on her leadership. “We express our gratitude to you for cherishing the values of Bengalees like ‘religious tolerance and fraternity.’ Bangabandhu played a pioneering role throughout his life to establish communal harmony.” The FM said that the people of Paschimbanga have occupied a special place in the hearts of Bangladeshi citizens. “On the auspicious occasion of the golden jubilee of independence of Bangladesh, Mujib year and 50 years of establishment of Indo-Bangladesh diplomatic ties, I remember with gratitude the support of Indian population, including the people of Paschimbanga, and Indian political leadership as well as their sacrifices.” The FM further stated that the bilateral ties would be strengthened through your commitment and cooperation. “We believe that all unresolved issues would be resolved in the coming days,” he said.

When Modi came out victorious in 2014, just on the same day, a TV channel from Bangladesh took my interview at The Janapath Hotel in New Delhi. On the day, I told not to get panic over intrusion. Ahead of election, Narendra Modi told about lots of things in Kolkata. After getting premiership, he will have to give much importance to Indo-Bangladesh relationship. Intrusion can be a topic of domestic politics. Like Advani and Rajnath Singh, the home minister might have told something. But, Vajpayee was an exception.

It is more important to move forward the Indo-Bangladesh ties than intrusion. During the 7-8 year rule of Narendra Modi, we have witnessed how expeditiously he took forward the bilateral ties. As Mamata Banerjee wants to become a national leader, Narendra Modi will want to utilise the situation. On Bangladesh issue, if his foreign minister Jaishankar, foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh act  collectively to take the Modi-Mamata relationship towards a positive direction and if the advisers of Bangladesh and the noted personalities become active to create Track-2 then we may hope for a success. We believe in Hope against Hope. No problem has been solved in this world by pursuing a path of conflict instead of dialogue. An atmosphere of dialogue must have to be created. Those who are in favour of Indo-Bangladesh fraternity and those who do not want to foil the ties, all will have to get employed in this task.


The writer is a senior journalist of India

Translated by Z A M Khairuzzaman