Sunday evening saw one of the more curious events in recent Indian political history. A 40-member strong Central Bureau of Investigation team arrived at the home of the Kolkata Police Commissioner to investigate a ponzi scam. This saw the Kolkata Police rush units to the spot. The two parties then entered into a scuffle, with the CBI team eventually being detained by the police. As soon as this concluded, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sat on a dharna with the aim to “save India and the Constitution”. The Union government, meanwhile, claimed that law and order had broken down in West Bengal.
That the CBI, which is controlled by the Union government, acts in a partisan manner has long been a complaint of Opposition parties across the board. As a result, following Sunday’s incidents, Banerjee received widespread support from Opposition parties such as the Congress and state parties across India. There was, however, one notable exception: the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Modi-Mamata working together?
The communist party blamed both the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party for Sunday’s events. It also accused the two parties of colluding with each other in order to weaken the Left, which had ruled West Bengal uninterrupted for 34 years till 2011, when Banerjee ousted it from power.
In a press release on Monday, the communists commented on the fact that the CBI raid had taken place on the same day as a Left rally in Kolkata, arguing that the timing was an attempt to “divert public attention”. It said:
“These developments coming within hours after the historic and unprecedently massive rally at Brigade Parade Grounds by the Left Front is also aimed to divert public attention from the rising protests by the people of West Bengal against both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress.”
Further, in an interview to the Indian Express that was published on Tuesday, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury accused the BJP and Trinamool Congress of “playing politics in tandem”. He said this was being done to sideline the Left and “reduce this [to a] political contest between the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party”.
Amongst the Opposition, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is the only party to support the CBI’s actions in Kolkata, arguing that “when the Supreme Court directs the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate, permission of the state government is not required”. In November, West Bengal had withdrawn the “general consent” provided to the CBI to carry out searches in the state.
The political background in West Bengal could perhaps explain the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s allegation of a secret Modi-Mamata pact. After ruling the state unchallenged for 34 years, the Left is now struggling to survive here. After its defeat in 2011, it lost the 2016 Assembly elections too, getting a little more than a quarter of the votes polled. Since then, the party’s fortunes have fallen even more precipitously. In the 2018 panchayat elections, the BJP emerged second to the Trinamool Congress, going past the Left.
While the communist party’s national leadership might take an anti-BJP stand based on ideology, its units in West Bengal face a more immediate threat from Trinamool Congress workers, who often use their position as the ruling party to suppress political activity inimical to them. To take on Trinamool Congress muscle, the 2018 panchayat polls saw a number of collaborations between workers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the BJP at the local level. On January 22, it was a local Communist leader in Malda, West Bengal that allowed BJP president Amit Shah to use his plot of land to hold a public meeting.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s allegations that Modi and Mamata are acting in tandem is therefore a result of tension between the party’s national ideology and the compulsions of ground politics in West Bengal ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.