The blowback from Bogtui might no more than singe Mamata Banerjee. However, since she came to power in 2011 and went about decimating the Opposition, for the first time, the West Bengal Chief Minister finds herself on the back foot.
With no ambiguity regarding the political affiliations of the people involved in the charring to death of eight people in the Birbhum village, Banerjee has been trying to contain the damage from the violence as well as from the findings that it arose out of rivalry within the Trinamool Congress over spoils of power. In one of her first statements during her visit to Bogtui, the CM vowed that police would throw the dragnet “to unearth secret caches of illicit arms, bombs across Bengal” – a tacit acknowledgment of unchecked violence in the state.
As the Centre has stepped in with a CBI probe, the incident has Banerjee bogged down in Bengal at a time when new power equations are being shaped post the five Assembly elections. Having drawn a blank in Goa where it had gone in with much fire and fury, the TMC has already ceded the early mover advantage to the Aam Aadmi Party. Now, any national role for her will be framed against Bogtui, the first “massacre” under Banerjee.
The Bogtui episode, where a cloud has been cast over police role, comes close on the heels of the death of a young and articulate Muslim activist, Anis Khan, in Kolkata under suspicious circumstances. Both the accused and victims in Bogtui are Muslims, and there is apprehension within the TMC on how the two incidents will impact Banerjee’s loyal minority vote base.
A senior TMC leader said, “In the Left regime, after 2006, people belonging to the minority community died in successive incidents, and it hit the CPM vote bank among minorities. If our party and government are not able to manage this situation and again this sort of incident happens, it will lead to serious implications for us.”
The most immediate impact could be seen in the bypoll to the Asansol seat, where more than 40 per cent voters are from the minority community. The TMC candidate is actor Shatrughan Sinha, among the leaders the party has brought in to make its appeal more broad-based.
Banerjee has sought to fight fire with fight, her usual defence. She asked why the BJP and other Opposition parties were quiet when there was a Hathras or Lakhmipur Kheri incident. She also said the TMC will protest “if the BJP conducts an investigation in place of the CBI” into the Bogtui case, and accused the two of working together. She threatened not to cooperate with the CBI if it doesn’t hold a “proper” investigation.
Criticising her reaction, BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “She is elder to me, I can only suggest her to read the Gita.”
CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty hit harder, saying: “Mamata Banerjee failed in Goa but Arvind Kejriwal won Punjab. Now, incidents like the Anis Khan murder and Bogtui massacre have proved that Mamata Banerjee can never be the alternative to the BJP.”