West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is on a major collision course with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the demonetisation issue. This, she hopes, is taking her and her party, the Trinamool Congress, to the forefront among the non-BJP, opposition parties nationally.
Holding rallies and meetings in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and having leaders such as Arvind Kejriwal, Omar Abdullah and Akhilesh Yadav among others, by her side on this issue, she sees herself and her party poised to be more relevant and important in the national political scenario in the coming days.
Unfortunately for Banerjee, and fortunately for the BJP, there is a twist in the tale.
Her stance is actually turning out to be a gain for the BJP in West Bengal. And BJP state president, Dilip Ghosh's comments on dragging Banerjee by the hair has only added to the BJP's advantage. Don't be shocked. There are plenty of Mamata haters in Bengal.
Comments such as these enhance the sharp divide that already exists between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP in West Bengal. And it is making the anti-Mamata voice more and more pronounced in the state.
And then there are also those who did not seem to mind what Ghosh had said about some women students of Jadavpur University in May 2016. He had called these women students "below standard", "shameless" and "constantly seeking company of male students", while reacting to allegations of molestations by students at the university during a scuffle between ABVP and Left leaning students.
Ghosh apologised about his dragging by the hair comment on Thursday, but he did not deny that he had said it. Comments such as these enhance the sharp divide that already exists between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP in West Bengal. And it is making the anti-Mamata voice more and more pronounced in the state.
The BJP was never a major presence in this traditional Left bastion. But the party's voting percentage in Bengal has begun to pick up: from 5.19% in the 2001 Assembly elections to 10.16% in 2016 (the voting percentage in its favour was 17.02% in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, but remember it was due to the nation-wide Narendra Modi wave).
The Mamata haters have mostly been those that voted for the Left Front parties and the Congress. But then, the votes for the Left parties have only reduced sharply in the past few years: CPM, the largest constituent of the Left Front, got 30.08% votes in 2011 Assembly elections when Mamata ousted the Left parties from power in the state, and it reduced to 19.75% in just five years.
A large share of these votes (that used to be cast in favour of the CPM) seemed to have gone to Banerjee (Trinamool votes increased from 38.93% in 2011 to 44.91% in 2016). But the BJP's share was by no means poor: it increased from 4.06% in 2011 to 10.16% in just five years, more than the Trinamool Congress' increase in terms of percentage.
The Congress in Bengal, having allied with the Trinamool Congress and the Left in different elections, has been unable to project itself as a formidable force independently able to take on either the Left or the Trinamool Congress in the state. This makes Banerjee's Trinamool Congress and the BJP the two parties "most visible" in the political battlefield of West Bengal at the moment.
Therefore, the BJP in Bengal has not only been getting more and more votes in recent times, but there also seems to be a distinct voice that has what it takes to confront and oppose Banerjee even when elections are not around.
No wonder Ghosh has made such a statement against the Bengal chief minister. If Banerjee has taken on Modi, Ghosh too has taken this glorious opportunity that will only help his party gain in Bengal.
How many people outside West Bengal knew the name of the Bengal BJP state president before his notorious comment on Banerjee? His statement has made people talk about him, it made the national media discuss him.
And for a party whose leaders are often criticised by other parties for derogatory remarks against women), that is not necessarily a bad thing. Because such comments do find support among a section of people and more often than not, such comments are made to make these people happy.
Is she is actually preparing the grounds for her own arguments when the CBI investigation on her party functionaries begin all over again?
Banerjee has always projected herself as the politician of the masses. In fact, it was her government's pro-poor schemes that is said to have led to her thumping win in the 2016 Assembly elections. And she is cashing in on the demonetisation issue that is causing large-scale suffering to the poor, who are fast losing their jobs in factories, farmers and traders unable to sell their produce.
Contrast this with the anti-Mamata voice in Bengal that is ready to attack her on grounds of her party leaders' alleged corruption charges – from the Saradha scam to the Narada sting operations.
Is she is actually preparing the grounds for her own arguments when the CBI investigation on her party functionaries begin all over again? A direct confrontation with BJP now will mean she can find a sound argument to suggest that it is actually a counter attack on her party because she had opposed Narendra Modi on demonetisation.
BJP has many such issues to attack Banerjee on, and being in power and her leaders facing alleged corruption charges cannot put her in an advantageous situation.
Therefore, whatever the outcome of such confrontations between Banerjee and the BJP, one thing is for sure: each time an anti-Banerjee, a serious opposition voice in West Bengal will get a bit more pronounced.