Politics is the art of the possible. The rapprochement between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is symbolic of that fact. Addressing a public meeting alongside Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on Sunday, Modi batted for the concept of ‘Team India’ powered by cooperative federalism and close co-ordination between the Centre and its States. The prime minister is of the view that such collaboration is essential to take the country forward. Chief Minister Banerjee reciprocated the prime minister’s view and all seems hunky-dory for the time being. The sudden turn of events follows a prolonged war of words between the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Centre and Trinamool Congress-led government in West Bengal. The Centre’s decision to extend the proverbial olive branch to TMC comes at a time when the prime minister, in his bid to pass key legislation in Parliament, seeks the support of Banerjee and her party.
Another reason for extending the olive branch was the recent civic poll results in West Bengal, where the TMC won an overwhelming number of seats in the municipalities and wards across the state, leaving the BJP decimated. Political commentators across the board had seen these civic elections as a test of the TMC’s popularity in the state following the arrest of key party leaders by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Saradha scam. For the BJP, however, these results came as a jolt for the its prospect in West Bengal. After relative success in the Lok Sabha elections and subsequent Basirhat South assembly by-poll last year, the BJP was looking to exploit the fallout from the Saradha scam and bulldoze its way through West Bengal politics.
In response to the BJP’s attempts at exploiting the fallout from the Saradha scam, leaders from the TMC had carried black umbrellas into Parliament to highlight the Centre’s inability to bring back black money, besides playing a pivotal role in blocking the Centre’s Land Acquisition Bill. Although, the TMC continues to maintain its stand on the land bill, its leaders have agreed to support the Goods and Services Tax Bill after their doubts about certain provisions were removed. To alleviate the State’s initial loss of revenue in the event of a Goods and Services Tax, the Centre has already sent two cheques for about Rs 1,000 crore to West Bengal as compensation for central sales tax. In addition to GST, the TMC also supported the Centre’s proposed Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh, after the latter agreed to the former’s demand for a special financial package that would rehabilitate the inhabitants of the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh. “All our demands have been met. The NDA ministers have negotiated far better than the UPA on both the Indo-Bangla land agreement and the GST Bill,” said TMC spokesperson Derek O’Brien.
In seeking TMC’s support for key bills, Modi has not only accepted the party’s dominant position in West Bengal politics, but also learnt that the best way to conduct legislative business with a myriad of regional interests is to positively engage with them. One hopes that in the name of development, the Centre continues to positively engage with other regional interests.