This time Mamata Banerjee is worried, and perhaps a bit nervous, too. When the 23-minute Narada capsule was first aired on the morning of March 14 last year, the Assembly polls in Bengal were less than three weeks away. But despite feverish speculation, the unprecedented show of the dirty dozen – MPs, MLAs, ministers, Kolkata mayor all extending their hands to accept cash – could hardly dent the Trinamool Congress vote bank, and the mercurial leader essayed an eye-popping sweep reducing the opposition to a virtual joke.
The Trinamool Congress chief had much to fear last year, when she was also confronted with an unprecedented coming together of the Left and Congress that had the Narada expose as a delectable fodder. In comparison, the waters in Bengal are far calmer now with the nearest elections -- rural polls -- at least a year away. Moreover, after the thumping 2016 mandate and the Supreme Court verdict upholding her demand to return Singur land to the tillers, thereby vindicating her claim as the messiah of the farmers, Mamata Banerjee is at the pinnacle of her political career.
But then in politics, context is God and Mamata Banerjee cannot be faulted if she cannot conceal her frowns after CBI registered the FIR on Narada. She knows only too well that with BJP metamorphosing from a paper tiger to a real one baring its teeth and swishing its tail vigorously, mid-April of 2017 is substantially different in her state than mid-April a year ago. After the victory in Uttar Pradesh, BJP is a different animal to contend with.
To the new found verve, two local factors must be added. One, after the unprecedented push in Ram Navami celebrations in Bengal, the shine in the eyes of state BJP leaders led by hardliner and former RSS pracharak Dilip Ghosh is matched only by the glint of the swords they brandished in the processions in different parts of the state. Two, their saffron enthusiasm was further boosted when BJP secured a jump of vote share from 9% (in 2016) to 31% in the Assembly bypoll in Kanthi Dakshin constituency, turning the contest into a bipolar one with TMC. Both the Left and Congress candidates lost their deposits. Add to that the fact that Amit Shah has kicked off the BJP’s expansion drive from Naxalbari in Bengal yesterday.
A look at the names in the FIR that CBI registered in Delhi provides the real shivers. Apart from seven MPs, it has the seniormost minister and an able administrator (Subrata Mukherjee), ministers who are confidants of Mamata Banerjee (Bobby Hakim and Sovan Chatterjee), a crowd puller in his own right (Suvendu Adhikari) and even a man with ‘clean’ reputation, former physics professor, Saugata Roy. According to the grapevine, CBI has drawn up a list of 17 more names for questioning, and they may contain more nasty surprises.
If they are put behind the bars, the Bengal chief minister will have to virtually recreate a new party leadership structure. Incidentally, two Lok Sabha MPs Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Tapas Paul are already in CBI custody and the chit fund investigation is by no means over.
Now, the worst part. While some of the leaders are personally close to Mamata Banerjee, a few are not so, and if they begin to sing in front of the investigators, troubles will multiply for the leader, who built Trinamool Congress from the scratch in 1998 and led it to power in 13 years flat. In January 2015, there was fierce speculation that the number two in the party, Mukul Roy, had a frank discussion with CBI sleuths investigating the Saradha scam.
And Narada is no Saradha, the probe for which was largely conducted from Kolkata. With CBI registering the FIR in Delhi, it has become virtually impossible for Trinamool leaders to pull strings. In the recent meet in Bhubaneswar, BJP president Amit Shah has announced that Bengal is a priority state for the party, signalling that the decks are clear for the onslaught.
In the summer of 2017, Mamata Banerjee may just sweat it out a bit more, far more than she has ever done in the four decades of her political career.