What spurs a fresh public re-examination of the TMC’s real agenda is yet another instance of Ms Banerjee doing an about turn in her self-proclaimed jihad to decimate the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Yet, five recent moves taken by the TMC expose a striking discordance between its actions and declared anti-BJP intent.

Among major leaders, Mr Banerjee revels in keeping her opponents guessing about her plans until the last minute. Her negotiating style is to engage her opponents in endless dialogue, full of contrary signals, keeping them off balance and undecided. After stretching the war of nerves to the limit or beyond, by which time only the doughtiest of her opponents are left standing, she invariably makes the kind of announcement that deepens an existing crisis than resolving it.

Since she became a Chief Minister, her pre-condition in any dialogue — whether with her opponents or the central Government or even with friends, allies and associates — is that people must agree to ALL her demands. She does not yield an inch. Naturally, it matters little that post Singur, no major investment has come Bengal’s way and unemployment has soared alarmingly.

It was one thing for the TMC to play fast and loose with the Left opposition. But of late, the TMC apparently makes no distinction between its political friends and foes. The party is keeping its allies also divided, confused and guessing, over the launch of a nationwide anti BJP agitation, proposed first by Ms Banerjee herself! It is her second call to the entire opposition to forge a total anti-BJP unity at the national level. There was no such across- the- board opposition unity in 2019 for the Lok Sabha polls in response to her energetic initiative at the time. The rest is history.

Her earlier failure has not demoralised Ms Banerjee. With renewed vigour, she has called upon opposition parties to revive their anti BJP struggle on a united basis in as many states as possible over issues like Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Register (NPR) exercise and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) upgrading. Not surprisingly, opposition leaders including Mr Sharad Pawar, Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mr Arvind Kejriwal, have responded positively.

But certain developments in Bengal and elsewhere in recent times have puzzled observers trying to make sense of the TMC’s latest moves. There can be no denying that some of the steps initiated by the TMC appear intended to divide and confuse the opposition, helping the BJP directly or in effect

First, eight out of 22 of TMC MPs did not attend Lok Sabha proceedings on the day the voted in favour of the CAA. Further, TMC MPs in Rajya Sabha, protesting against the centre , staged a walk- out, making it easier for the BJP to get the CAA through the upper house, where its majority was not as secure as it was in the lower house.

Second, the TMC stayed away from the all opposition gatherings called by the Indian National Congress (INC) in Delhi, a few days ago. Its reason: the state INC and the Left Parties which had organised a nation-wide bandh on January 8 in protest against the centre’s anti-labour policies.

Left leader Sujan Chakravarty spoke for many as he commented, ’Coming from a leader who had personally led her storm troopers to the Bengal Assembly, disrupting an ongoing session and destroying valuable antique furniture and other property when she was not even an MLA, her complaint against violence is most amusing. Add to this the fact that during her days in the opposition the TMC had organised 73 bandhs.’ Most observers agreed that except for a few sporadic incidents on January 8 involving arguments and some jostling between the police and supporters of the LF/INC, nothing much had happened!

Intriguingly, Bengal was the only state where the TMC administration made it a point to punish the strikers, unlike other states, which took the bandh call in their stride. ‘The TMC is out-Heroding Herod, apparently to please the centre,” said CPI(M leader Suryakanta Mishr .But to cancel her trip to Delhi on such a pretext was unfathomable, unless the decision masked a TMC snub to the INC leader Sonia Gandhi — not for the first time.

Third, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement naming Kolkata port after the late right wing leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, widely regarded as the founding father of Jana Sangh, was supported by TMC MP and heir apparent to Ms Banerjee, youth leader Ahbishek Banerjee. In a tweet Mr. Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew, observed that while there could be no objection to Mr Modi’s gesture to Bengal’s ‘Stalwart legend’ Shyama Prasad, it would have helped Bengal if he had cleared the state’s pending allotments.

It needs stressing that Mr. Banerjee expressed his admiration for the late Mukherjee against the backdrop of widespread condemnation expressed by state INC and Left leaders, who attacked him for his alleged ‘communalism,’ ‘Such gestures send an unmistakable signal from the TMC to the BJP saying, ‘our political values and culture are not far removed from yours,’, says an observer.

Fourth, Speaker of West Bengal Assembly disallowed a proposal from the INC and Left opposition for the house to adopt a jointly sponsored resolution condemning the CAA, NRC etc. ‘If the ruling TMC had agreed, it would have effectively isolated the BJP in the house,’ explained Mohammad Salim, former CPI(M) MP. This despite an earlier assurance given by the speaker that the opposition’s demand would be seriously considered.

Fifth, there was Ms Banerjee’s sudden impromptu one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Mr. Modi. She later claimed to have discussed the state’s dues not cleared by Delhi , followed by her appeal to the Prime Minister to withdraw the CAA , etc. ‘If this was all they discussed , why there was no official accompanying her and why she was not carrying any documents or files?’ asked Mr Salim.

In sum, no matter whatever was discussed between Mr Modi and Ms Banerjee, the TMC leader is seemingly involved in a different kind of political engagement with the BJP. This has prompted at least some observers to describe her as the new emergent Mayawati in India’s East. Some parallels are obvious, if somewhat murky : their earlier partnership with and their present love- hate relationship with the saffron party, allegations of corruption against the parties they lead and their near relatives, ongoing investigations against their parties by the ED and the CBI.

Not to mention the end result of such subtle political games: Ms Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party did not join the opposition as it fought the 2019 LS polls. Ms Banerjee, who in 2019 had made it clear that she would not treat Mr Rahul Gandhi as the head of a joint opposition and went it alone in Bengal, is making the same point once more. (IPA Service)