Politics makes for strange dynamics. Here enemies become friends and vice-versa depending on the prevailing compulsions. This is the first major election post 2004 when Congress and Trinamool Congress will fight separately in Bengal. While TMC has gone from strength to strength in last few years, the grand old Congress party has been virtually relegated to a signboard. Facing severe anti-incumbency and weak organisation in the state, we saw an unusually hostile Rahul Gandhi taking on Mamata Banerjee who wasted no time to return the favour.
Untimely rain meant Gandhi scion’s Kolkata rally was cancelled. But he was at his aggressive best in the tea gardens of Dooars. He alleged that the state known for its glorious past has only gone backwards due to communist misrule. The current state government is also going down the same path according to him. To counter the allegation of insufficient allocation of funds, congress Vice President said the highest amount is sent here. But the rulers are unable to utilise it for the development of people. He said for education, health and to develop roads, a huge amount is allocated. According to him, hardly anything reaches the aam aadmi due to mismanagement of funds. Like in other places he praised schemes like RTI, MGNREGA, etc., saying it was UPA who has done the most for the poor. He is scheduled to visit the state again in the campaign trail.
Soon after Rahul’s speech, the chief minister gave a point-by-point rebuttal to claims made by congress vice president. Equating herself to a tornado, didi, without naming slammed Rahul calling him laatsaheb (pampered monarch) and bhuiphor neta (insignificant leader). She accused the congress leadership of betraying Bengal’s cause. In total this year, state’s Rs. 76 thousand crore has been deducted by the Centre according to numbers provided by Mamata. Why all schemes are named after the Nehru-Gandhi parivaar(family) and none in the names of Bengali icons was also questioned by a combative Chief Minister.
The story of moratorium
Bengal had a debt of nearly Rs. 2 lakh crore when didi took power in 2011. This debt has only increased steadily thanks to lack of fiscal prudence. It is now nearly Rs. 2.5 lakh crore. The state government has always argued that since a major portion of its revenue is deducted as interest of the outstanding amount, the development work is getting hampered. State finance minister, Amit Mitra has thus demanded Centre’s intervention for rescheduling the 10-year State Development Loan (SDL) to a longer period of 15 to 20 years with a three-year interest moratorium. Even when TMC was part of UPA the demand for moratorium was made vociferously, but failed to have any impact. After the acrimonious split, the demand for the rights of Bengal as deemed by didi has only got a sharp political overtone. The state congress leadership has always been a tad defensive against the tirade launched to protest the alleged bango banchona (injustice against Bengal). Rahul by taking on the state government head on in this contentious issue has clearly laid the path to be followed by Congress leadership in Bengal.
Past bonhomie forgotten?
Mamata and Sonia Gandhi have been always been in cordial terms. Rajeev Gandhi was one of the very early leaders who spotted potential in the then youth leader from Bengal. Even after forming a new party, the amicable relationship continued. That personal equation meant often overruling the state leadership, Sonia and Rahul gave Mamata the better deal in the alliance. But the relationship seems to have run its course with didi accusing Gandhis of being biased and even putting up candidates in their pocket borough. Thus this altercation was only a matter of time.