After the BJP’s stunning victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkhand and its success in forming governments in Goa and Manipur, the saffron brigade is now seeking to spread its wings across the country. The decline of the Congress as a national party provides the BJP a historic opportunity to take its place and the Modi-Shah combine is not willing to miss out on any opportunity.
The failure to win Bihar in 2015 and the success in winning Assam in 2016 has combined to make West Bengal the key link in the chain for Modi-Shah’s Drang Nach Osten (push eastward), as the BJP starts preparing for the 2019 Parliament polls. West Bengal has 42 seats and the BJP feels it is important to clip the wings of Mamata Banerjee who fancies herself as the leader of a future Federal Front based on anti-Hindutva secular politics.
So the BJP has designed ‘Operation Mamata’ with a three pronged assault strategy. One, the saffron brigade has gone for a massive politics of mobilisation centred round the recent Ram Navami celebrations – a statewide upsurge with rallies, melas, marches and what have you.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh had suggested the march with swords and trishuls to raise the level of Hindu militancy to not only counter the strong arm tactics of Trinamool Congress but to raise “Hindu consciousness” which will, he thinks, help the BJP in future electoral battles. This mobilisation complements the RSS drive to double its membership in Bengal in the next one year.
Banerjee has not only threatened to hit back at the ‘politics of divisivenesss’ using her party grassroots muscle and her law and order machinery but has asked TMC leaders to take steal the saffron thunder by organising Ram Navami programmes. That is a smart tactical move to ensure the TMC is not seen as anti-Ram or anti-Hindu, even as it seeks to curb saffron militancy. But it is clear that Banerjee is pushed on the defensive by this aggressive religious mobilisation.
Two, the Centre has decided to work the many pressure points of Banerjee – the Saradha-Narada scams now investigated by the CBI, stepping up the gas on accountability in management of public finances and much else. That not only helps the BJP expose the Mamata regime as corrupt and irresponsible, but also helps it address voters with a ‘ give us a chance’ appeal. The Left and Congress have ruled Bengal before, Mamata is into her second term, only the BJP can ask for a chance.
Three, the Modi government has decided to push Mamata to agree to clear the Teesta river water negotiations. Banerjee has alleged that Delhi was planning to sign the deal on May 25, ignoring her. Banerjee suspects that Modi might go ahead with the Teesta and Ganges Barrage deals with Bangladesh on his own.
The BJP gains by such an action because the Congress and the Left cannot oppose the Teesta or Ganges deals. Former PM Manmohan Singh initiated the Teesta deal, Jyoti Basu was the architect of the 1996 Ganges water sharing treaty.
Both parties have pushed for the river water accords with an Indian-friendly regime in Bangladesh.
If Mamata keeps up her opposition and Modi goes ahead with the deals, he ends up splitting any larger anti-BJP consolidation that was emerging after demonetisation.