The West Bengal government’s decision not to send the state’s Chief Secretary and the DGP to New Delhi despite the Union Home Ministry’s summons in the wake of a mob attack on BJP chief JP Nadda’s convoy is in keeping with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s style of politics. The attack by alleged supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) needs to be condemned in no uncertain terms, but it also indicates that not much has changed in the political culture of West Bengal even so many years after the CPI(M) rule. The state may well within be its right to differ with the Centre over bureaucratic procedures to be adopted, but action in the case should not be overlooked just because the incident involved the leader of an Opposition party.
With the Assembly elections due next year in West Bengal, both the TMC and the BJP will try not to be seen as ceding ground. With the Congress and the CPI(M) on the margins, the TMC now sees the BJP as a potential challenger after the saffron party made gains in Bihar and the local bodies’ elections in Hyderabad. Already, there are efforts afoot to cobble a coalition to take on the BJP-led government at the Centre.
As for the BJP, it has past experience in dealing with Mamata Banerjee as an ally when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to deal with tough coalition partners shaking the confidence of the government. Even amid the recent standoff, there have been conciliatory gestures like Prime Minister Modi paying a visit to West Bengal during the pandemic to assess the damage caused by a cyclone and promising assistance. Agitational politics is characteristic of Mamata Banerjee, who took on the decades-old Left rule in the state, laying siege to police stations even as a minister. As Chief Minister, she has had an indifferent relationship with the Governor. It might be difficult for a non-BJP-ruled state to get all its demands met by the Centre, but it must be done in a spirit of constructive opposition, in the best spirit of federalism.