Mamata Banerjee is the new Arvind Kejriwal — taking Prime Minister Narendra Modi head-on, engaging in constant confrontations with the central government and always itching for a good fight. The latest tussle between the Narendra Modi led government at the Centre and the Mamata Banerjee dispensation in West Bengal over the CM’s top civil servant-turned-advisor Alapan Bandyopadhyay is only the latest example of what has now become a predictable pattern.
That cooperative federalism has completely collapsed under the Modi government does not need to be said. And the most glaring examples of this crumbling have been the equations the Centre has with the Delhi government under Arvind Kejriwal and the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal.
There was a time when the Delhi government’s constant tussles with the Centre and Kejriwal-Modi fights would make headlines every other day. Now, the baton seems to have been passed on to Mamata, who is being every bit the aggressive opposition leader.
Both Kejriwal and Mamata stand for a similar brand of politics. They are street fighters, fierce, know their voters, and most importantly, want to stand out as opposition leaders who can truly stand up to Modi.
The Mamata-Modi run-ins
Alapan Bandyopadhyay is merely another chapter in what seems to be fast-becoming a grand book of Mamata-Modi run-ins, and a hot-selling one at that.
The political rivalry and bitter face-offs between these two popular politicians is another matter, as was witnessed in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election as well as the recent assembly polls in West Bengal. But it is the confrontations on matters of governance, administration and Centre-state boundaries that have become the hallmark of the West Bengal and Modi government.
Just take a look at the recent developments and the paradigm becomes clear.
On 28 May, Mamata Banerjee and her chief secretary Bandyopadhyay skipped a review meeting with PM Modi to assess the damage caused by Cyclone Yaas. The meeting had to then be cancelled, following which senior BJP leaders launched a concerted attack on Banerjee.
Just a few days earlier, Mamata Banerjee had sparred with the CBI over the arrest of Bengal ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, MLA Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee in the Narada graft case.
There have been a string of disagreements between the Modi and Mamata governments — from the handling of the pandemic and the home ministry rushing in its team, to ‘inadequate’ funds for cyclones, GST, the summoning of Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee’s wife in ‘coal theft ‘case, the post-poll violence in the state and the transfer of IAS, IPS officers.
Remember Kolkata top cop Rajeev Kumar episode? Or the home ministry’s decision last December to transfer three IPS officers from West Bengal, which Banerjee termed as ‘unconstitutional’?
Mamata Banerjee, in fact, recently questioned the PM’s tendency to hold forth through monologues in his meetings with chief ministers, which she dubbed as ‘puppet-like’ treatment.
This standoff, however, is most glaring when it comes to the very ugly and frequent spats between the Mamata Banerjee dispensation and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.
Essentially, it has now become a trope for Mamata Banerjee — to not allow the Centre to walk all over her state, and ensure each confrontation with Modi is as newsy, fierce and worthy of her being seen as a formidable opponent to a very powerful prime minister.
The Kejriwal-Mamata playbook
Not much needs to be said about Arvind Kejriwal’s legendary fights with the Modi government, all of which have been talked and written about in great detail. However, the playbook of both these leaders seems uncannily similar.
At a time when the opposition seems to have been dwarfed by Modi’s popular personna and electoral reach, these two leaders have strived to consistently stand out as those who can challenge the PM, look him in the eye and keep him out of their turfs. The confrontations and fights are all deliberate, well-orchestrated and in a bid to play to their respective political galleries.
Such a combative stance helps these regional leaders raise their stature from being state satraps to national opposition politicians, and also sends out a message to their voters that they are the real bosses of their state. The results of assembly polls in both Delhi and West Bengal, where the BJP had to bite the dust, speak for themselves and for how effective this strategy is.
For Modi’s BJP, meanwhile, this is a tricky terrain. The party wants to box its opponents into a corner, poke holes in their governance, needle them and make smooth administrative functioning a challenge. On one hand, it has helped the BJP enhance its Lok Sabha performance in these states, but on the other, Modi has failed miserably to dethrone these leaders.
At the end of it all, both sides — whether Mamata or Kejriwal and Modi — end up looking childish and unnecessarily belligerent, with no respect for political niceties. But who cares about looking good in an era where making noise and being heard is more important?
For Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, this might be politically smart, but can become a thorn in their ability to govern their states. Distracted by constant tussles with the Modi government and complete lack of cooperative functioning with the Centre for these leaders could mean vulnerability on the governance front.
For now, the race for who the most fiery opponent to Modi is very much on, and the street fighters — Kejriwal and now Mamata — are way ahead of the others.
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