The first session of the 17th Lok Sabha has become the stage for a fierce confrontation between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), with the high-stakes assembly elections in West Bengal set to take place in 2021.
Members of both the parties have often fired salvos at each other on a variety of issues, particularly during Question Hour and Zero Hour.
The BJP has attacked its rival over the law and order situation in West Bengal, while the TMC, the ruling party in the state, has hit back at the BJP with the charges of political partisanship.
The aggressive positioning in the Lok Sabha follows the bitter election battle between the two parties during which they accused each other of indulging in violence against their cadre. The general elections saw a reduction in the dominance of the TMC and the emergence of the BJP as the key Opposition party in the state.
The BJP made major gains in West Bengal by winning 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, which is just four seats less than the TMC’s tally of 22 constituencies. This is in stark contrast to the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, when the BJP won just two seats and the TMC got a thumping majority by winning the elections with 34 constituencies.
In the ongoing budget session of Parliament, BJP MP Locket Chatterjee accused the TMC of threatening people who chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and also alleged that the party leadership allowed grass-roots workers to charge money for delivering services.
“I had raised the issue of ‘cut money’ (money charged for delivering services) in the Lok Sabha. They are also threatening people who chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Why is it so? Is it a slogan of the BJP? It is for everyone. I raised these issues as it troubled them," Chatterjee told Mint.
The other members of BJP who have been vocal in the Lok Sabha include Dilip Ghosh, who is also party’s state unit chief, Sukanta Majumdar, Debasree Chaudhuri, and Nisith Pramanik.
TMC veterans such as Kalyan Banerjee, Saugata Roy, and Sudip Bandyopadhyay held fort and were backed by younger colleagues such as Mahua Moitra and Aparupa Poddar.
“What the BJP has been raising in Lok Sabha (about Bengal) are not the real issues. It is their creation. Bengal has been neglected in the last five years. Even in this session, we have raised issues about our demands that have not been met. These issues should not be fought in a political way. Rather we should fight for the cause of the common people," Poddar told Mint.
The BJP feels that the increased friction in the House between the two parties is because of its improved numbers, while TMC leaders feel numbers don’t matter and that they continue to dominate Bengal politics. Both, however, agree that such “discussions" in Lok Sabha are set to increase.
“We have 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha and a lot of people are keen on joining us. This has scared the TMC as they know that their state government is on its way out. The people of Bengal want BJP to come... I think such discussions will increase in the Lok Sabha in the coming days. The chief minister has become desperate and this is visible in the House," Chatterjee said.
“West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has fought a tough battle and we are her soldiers and will not be scared. Numbers are not a factor. Her fighting spirit is enough for us," Poddar said.
With the rise of the BJP in West Bengal, the political narrative in the state is now largely being shaped as a direct fight between it and the TMC. This has pushed two key parties, the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, to the margins. The CPM did not win a single seat in the state in the Lok Sabha elections, while the Congress has just two members from the state, one of whom is their leader in the House, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.