In West Bengal, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has raised the stakes higher in its running battle against the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), claiming that at least 38 TMC MLAs were in close touch with the saffron party. Further, well-known pro-BJP actor Mithun Chakraborty told newspersons in Kolkata that at least 21 of them were maintaining ‘personal contact’ with him. As expected, this somewhat abrupt revelation raised a flutter in political circles, especially as the TMC finds itself on the defensive over the embarrassing exposure of the Rs. 120 crore School Service Commission (SSC) scam. More than the substance of Chakraborty’s comments, his timing was significant. Only minutes before, State chief minister Mamata Banerjee, at an official function, attacked the BJP for toppling Opposition-ruled Governments by encouraging, engineering splits and/or defections in other parties, from Karnataka to Maharashtra. “The BJP was now targeting Bengal,” she added.
For some time now in West Bengal, the possibility of a split within the TMC in the manner of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has been discussed widely among political circles, although not very publicly. Mid and low-level TMC activists in Bhowanipore and other areas, supposedly the citadel of the TMC in Kolkata, admitted that there were two opposed groups within the party, which had lined up respectively behind the chief minister and her nephew MP Abhishek Banerjee, her heir apparent. The party often found it difficult to get both groups united on major policy decisions, such as the nomination of candidates for coming elections, and on major official appointments within the administration, to give only two examples. As of now, the TMC is known to be divided on the question of action to be taken against Partha Chatterjee, TMC secretary general and minister for Industries, now under arrest for his alleged involvement in the Rs. 120-crore SSC scam. Senior Government officials and TMC leaders are suspected of having helped appoint unfit persons at different levels of Government-run schools in the State as full-time teachers while ignoring applications of thousands of meritorious male and female applicants. This had been continuing since 2012, which meant that over 50,000 fully qualified job seekers had been passed over and robbed of the jobs they could and should have held.
Currently, the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI are probing the complaints filed by the protestors in the Calcutta High Court. Acting under the strict instruction of the High Court, the ED and the CBI raided scores of places and establishments and interviewed and arrested several people including the minister, as the outlines of yet another major scam during the TMC tenure came to light. The present decline of the BJP was more attributable to the weakness/ineptness within its state organisation, which led to an erosion of the State-wide support, the lack of coordination between State and Central units, the failure of the Central leaders to provide much-needed guidance and effective support to the State unit. Major infighting among State leaders coupled with an absence of minimal party discipline added to its woes. Nevertheless, TMC’s trump card is Mamata and she is still invincible taking into account her command over her support base. The latest SSC scam is of a bigger dimension compared to the earlier ones. To what extent, the main political rival of the TMC, BJP can exploit this to their political advantage, is to see.