Nidhi Razdan on why Mamata Banerjee has gone quiet Video Credit: Gulf News

What is going on with Mamata Banerjee? If you are a keen watcher of Indian politics, you may have noticed that the firebrand Chief Minister of West Bengal has been much quieter in recent months.

The once feisty Mamata has been unusually mellow. And the rift between her and other opposition parties, particularly the Congress, has only widened.

After the TMC’s below par performance in the recent north east assembly elections, Mamata Banerjee declared that her party will fight the 2024 general elections alone, accusing the Congress, Left and BJP of having an “unholy” alliance.

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A major defeat

Since then, the TMC has pretty much stayed away from any joint opposition efforts at anything. They did not attend an opposition meeting chaired by the Congress on parliament strategy, even though many of the issues they are raising are similar — such as the Adani controversy.

On Wednesday, 18 opposition parties marched towards the office of the investigation agency, the Enforcement Directorate, but the TMC was conspicuously absent.

There are several reasons for Mamata’s sulk. For one, her party’s poor electoral performance outside Bengal which has thwarted the TMC’s national expansion plans.

A major defeat in a Bengal assembly bypoll last month has also left a bitter taste and has significant implications. The TMC lost the Sagardighi by election to the Congress candidate who was also supported by the Left.

This was a seat the TMC had won continuously since 2011. Usually, bypolls do not throw up major surprises, with the results often going in favour of the ruling party.

What Went Wrong for the TMC Chief? Is Mamata's silence advantage BJP in West Bengal? Image Credit: ANI

Mamata’s minority vote

Which is why when they do spring a surprise, there is a message to those in power. For the TMC, this defeat hurt even more since it has won all other bypolls over the last 2 years. Moreover, this was a Muslim dominated constituency (67 per cent). This punctures Mamata’s minority vote balloon.

The defeat also shows that Mamata is not invincible in Bengal. The TMC has been beleaguered with a series of corruption accusations and arrests of key legislators in the last one year. This includes senior minister Partha Chatterjee in an alleged school service commission recruitment scam. All these scandals have dented the TMC’s credibility.

Rahul Gandhi used his solo outing on the Meghalaya election campaign trail to attack the Trinamool over political violence and corruption. The threat of arrest by the ED has also hit closer to home for Mamata Banerjee, with her nephew and party MP and de facto number 2, Abhishek Banerjee, questioned several times by the agency in an alleged coal smuggling case.

Investigations by central agencies

A few months ago, TMC Lok Sabha MP Sougata Roy told ‘The Indian Express’, “the investigations by central agencies have certainly disrupted our national ambitions.

The arrest of our leaders are a setback. In West Bengal, Trinamool Congress is the dominant force. From outside, there is no challenge. But inside, we are facing a challenge. We have to first overcome this internal challenge before focusing on other things.”

The TMC was on a high after the last Bengal election in 2021. They decided to contest the Goa polls and got drubbed. And then failed to live up to expectations both in Tripura and Meghalaya this year.

In Meghalaya, the TMC won only 5 seats, though it became the main opposition here in 2021 when 12 MLAs of the Congress had switched sides. The big expansion plans have turned out to be more hype than substance.

It was not so long ago that Mamata Banerjee was positioning herself as the centre of an opposition alliance, trying to get other national parties to rally around her. Today, she has given up that pretence, and stands alone. That tells us the story of 2024’s election in a nutshell.

And that makes it advantage BJP.