She has supported Akhilesh Yadav and the Congress alliance in the Uttar Pradesh elections, and has predicted that the BJP would not be able to make the cut. For Mamata Banerjee, the outcome of the Uttar Pradesh polls is of great significance. And the exit poll results – most of which show the BJP leading ahead of other major political parties in the state – has made the entire Trinamool Congress leadership jittery.
After all, what unfolds in West Bengal politics in the coming weeks and months will have a lot to do with what unfolds in Uttar Pradesh in the next couple of days.
The Bengal BJP leaders are saying as much. In February, BJP's national secretary Rahul Sinha had said: "Let the UP elections be over, you will find the entire Trinamool Congress leadership behind bars for looting public money."
Last week, state BJP leaders met a senior officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation in Kolkata urging the organisation to speed up investigations in the chit fund scams. BJP and Trinamool Congress have been accusing each other of using government investigating agencies as their party tools. While the Trinamool Congress says that the BJP is using the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate to arrest its party leaders, the BJP too is accusing the ruling party in Bengal of using the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to arrest its leaders. Recently, a BJP leader, Juhi Chowdhury, was arrested for her alleged involvement in a child trafficking racket. Leaders of both political parties are also filing complaints against each other with the police.
There has been no major arrest or interrogation since Trinamool leaders Sudip Bandopadhyay and Tapas Pal's arrest in the chit fund scam cases in December 2016 and January this year. Officials say however, that investigations are on as usual and subsequent interrogations will take place soon.
BJP's state president, Dilip Ghosh, told HuffPost India that CBI authorities had assured the state BJP leaders that investigations were progressing as usual. "CBI officers told us that there aren't enough officers with them at this point, but work is on. Right now, they are focused on paperwork regarding earlier arrests. Next steps will soon follow," Ghosh said.
He added that senior BJP leaders could not focus much on Bengal now, as "they are all busy with the UP election". Ghosh said that politically, the BJP's win in Uttar Pradesh will be significant for Bengal because greater power for Narendra Modi means bad news for Mamata Banerjee. "They [Trinamool Congress leaders in West Bengal] are all tense now," he said.
The fact that the Trinamool Congress leaders are tense is evident. All through the day – on 9 March – the most discussed subject was the exit polls, and speculations on the results. Senior Trinamool Congress leader Partha Chatterjee refused to say anything on the matter. "Let the UP results be out. I cannot comment on the matter now," he said.
It is evident that BJP's performance in Uttar Pradesh will indicate who will enjoy an upper hand in Bengal – at least for a while. Mamata Banerjee would like the SP-Congress alliance to form the government, because it means the BJP cannot put pressure on her politically. Only two days ago, Banerjee had insisted that the state will continue to provide mid-day meals to children without Aadhar cards, going against the Centre. A defeat for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh would mean she can assert herself more against the Centre and against Narendra Modi on various grounds.
Banerjee has been carefully building a strong camaraderie with Akhilesh Yadav in the run-up to the UP elections when they had both spoken out against Narendra Modi on the demonetisation issue. She had even tweeted about her support to the SP-Congress alliance.
With an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Banerjee has been, for sometime, keen on forging alliances with non-BJP forces all over the country. Her political ambition – nationally – is to be an important leader in an anti-BJP front and for this too, every anti-BJP vote in Uttar Pradesh counts.
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