By Amulya Ganguli
The security risk posed by the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has always been known, but few had anticipated that the virtually unchecked flow of aliens over the years would enable a Bangladeshi terrorist group to establish a base in West Bengal with the objective of assassinating the prime minister and leader of the opposition in Dhaka.
What is more disconcerting is that their sinister plot would have remained unknown for a much longer period but for the accidental explosion of a bomb in a house in Burdwan district where these were being manufactured.
It is this fortuitous breakthrough for the security forces which persuaded the National Investigating Agency (NIA) to muscle its way into probing the conspiracy against the wishes of the state government. The latter had been reluctant to allow the Delhi-based NIA to start its inquiries on the ground that it militated against the country’s federal structure.
It was on this plea that West Bengal and several other states, including Gujarat, had stalled the setting up of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) a few years ago. What the latest events have shown, however, is that such sensitiveness about federalism is inadvisable at a time when Islamist terror has become a grave threat in the sub-continent and elsewhere.
The Mamata Banerjee government’s initial objection to the NIA’s intervention in the Burdwan case has,however, been ascribed less to any concern about the erosion of the state’s rights than about a desire to pose as a champion of the minorities.
The chief minister apparently felt that a wide-ranging probe into the activities of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen of Bangladesh, which will include raids on a number of madrasas or seminaries for Muslims, may alienate a section of the community, which constitutes a crucial 30 percent of the state’s population.
Her attitude has given a handle to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to reiterate with great fervour its old allegations of minority appeasement against “secular” parties. The fact that the Jamaat infiltrators are believed to have been entering West Bengal from 2007 onwards, when the leftists were in power, shows that there is little to choose between Communist and non-Communist secularists.
The BJP has now gone to the extent of accusing the Trinamool Congress of terrorist connections. It is a case of overreaction, of course, but there is little doubt that the latest developments have dealt yet another, and possibly the most damaging, blow to Mamata Banerjee’s reputation, especially where the middle class is concerned.
It goes without saying that she is now facing the most serious crisis of her career. Till now she had been seen as someone who had failed to graduate to be a responsible administrator from her earlier street-fighting avatar as a rabble-rouser. Her image had also been dented by the lawlessness of the Trinamool cadres, many of whom have switched over to the ruling dispensation from the leftist parties.
The chit fund scam, which also has a Bangladeshi connection, is another damaging factor for her along with the dismal state of West Bengal’s economy. Notwithstanding her attempts to woo investors by visiting Mumbai to meet Mukesh Ambani and other industrialists, and travelling to Singapore in search of foreign capital, few in the corporate sector have shown any inclination to invest in West Bengal.
It isn’t only the cadre raj which has dissuaded them but also the memories of how Mamata Banerjee hounded the Tatas out of Singur where they were setting up their first Nano factory.
It is the widespread disillusionment with her regime which enabled the BJP to raise its vote share from six percent in 2009 to 16.8 in the general election – an unprecedented hike for a party which had little presence in the state all these years. The party even secured a slender lead in the assembly segment from where Mamata Banerjee usually contests.
In the context of the Burdwan episode, however, the disenchantment with her cannot but increase because of the surprisingly casual manner in which she initially treated the terrorist activity considering that about 100 of the Jamaat members are believed to have entered West Bengal and to have travelled to and fro between the state and Bangladesh at will.
If the police had been tardy about these infiltrations, it is apparently because they were not sure how vigorously they should pursue the aliens in view of the ruling party’s sensitivities about the minorities. While the nervousness of those in the lower levels is understandable, such an attitude reflects poorly on officers in the all-India services.
It can be recalled in this context how Mamata Banerjee had scuttled the Teesta river waters treaty with Bangladesh when Manmohan Singh was prime minister. Given the cross-border ramifications of the latest developments, however, her carelessness about the threats to a friendly neighbouring country cannot but be electorally hurtful.
It is noteworthy that only three years after her assumption of power, the conqueror of what was once considered an impregnable bastion of the Left has been reduced to being a person whose hold on power is becoming precarious.
(01.11.2014 – Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)