'Butcher of Gujarat': has TMC bitten off a bit too much?

Having taken on Modi, has Team Mamata shut out the option of being part of the ruling clique if NDA comes to power with big numbers and doesn’t need TMC support that desperately?

shantanu

Shantanu Datta | April 28, 2014


Mamata Banerjee: TMC claims she did not sell the painting for Rs 1.8 crore, and whatever money came in was used for campaigning.
Mamata Banerjee: TMC claims she did not sell the painting for Rs 1.8 crore, and whatever money came in was used for campaigning.

That old cliché – you either love or hate him – applies to many (dare we say most) politicians. More so for Narendra Modi, the Gujarat chief minister and now seen by many as India’s next prime minister. 

Change the gender, and the cliché fits Mamata Banerjee equally well. So how do the two like each other. Nothing, to use another cliché on a weary Monday afternoon, is final till the final ball is bowled. Not that the two are playing each other in IPL; just a way of saying the cliché fits both cricket and politics with as much ease. So, we will never know till we actually know.

But as of now, it seems two-all – both sides having pressed the dislike button for the other as the final three phases of election draw closer.

On Sunday, Modi, campaigning for singer-composer Bappi Lahiri in West Bengal’s Serampore constituency, slammed Banerjee by raking up the Saradha chit fund scam, estimated to be worth more than Rs 20,000 crore, and alleged that the chief minister is helping people involved in the scam. For the record, Saradha group head Sudipta Sen is said to have been close to the party.

But what got the Trinamool Congress’s (TMC’s) goat was the Gujarat CM’s other allegation – that his Bengal counterpart sold one of her paintings for a mind-boggling Rs 1.8 crore.

Heck, Team TMC felt immediately, hell hath no fury like a Mamata scorned. The “Butcher of Gujarat”, they retorted just as immediately, should either prove the worth of the said painting or get set to face a defamation suit. Party’s Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien tweeted: “The Butcher of Gujarat could not take care of his own wife. How will he take care of this great nation?”

A day later, party general secretary Mukul Roy held a media conference and told reporters, "Someone whose hands are bloodstained in Gujarat riots is doubting the integrity and sincerity of our leader and making personal attacks."

West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra, who was present at the conference, said all money raised from the sale of paintings have either gone for charity purposes or funding the party's mouthpiece 'Jago Bangla', says a PTI report. "Modi has made a very low level of personal attack on her. By going to the lowest denominator he has changed the political discourse in the country," Mitra said.

All verbal shots, gunshots and sling shots might be fine in the run-up to the elections – and as many as 32 of the state’s 42 seats are still to vote in the last three phases – but is the Trinamool biting too much to swallow? Have they aimed the sling shots at their own toes? Modi, as people who know him closely say, does not easily say cheers to jeers. By firing back at Modi has Team Mamata thus shot away a chance of getting into the NDA if the BJP emerges with formidable numbers to form the next government?

That Banerjee and the TMC have any qualms about cozying up to the “communal” forces may just be election bluster. Critics say the party had little compunction about either communalism or riots after the post-Godhra riots in Modi’s Guharat in 2002, and voted for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in the confidence vote in April 2002.

Therefore, many TMC watchers were expecting Banerjee to lend support if a Modi government becomes feasible post-election.

While she can still do that – “outside support” or “conditional support” are par for the course in Indian democracy, in most cases after grabbing an IOU letter – the question is whether she has shut that option out if the NDA emerges stronger and Modi does not need support from the TMC. 

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