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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has now alleged that she was not invited to the Vishwa Bharti University Centenary Celebration, which was addressed by Chancellor, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This has naturally been denied by the authorities and the BJP. Obviously, there has been a bit of chicanery on someone’s part, but it reveals the level to which politics has descended in that state. It is quite obvious that Mamata Banerjee is greatly flustered by the recent desertions by top leaders of her party and is resorting, once again, to the theatrics that has been the staple of her politics and governance over the years. She knows it is only by evoking Bengali sentiment that she can counter the heavyweight assault by the BJP. Other politicians, such as Sharad Pawar and Arvind Kejriwal, who are facing the same predicament, can only extend moral support, at best. She will have to fend for herself against natural anti-incumbency – given the consistent misgovernance – and the two-pronged attack from the hegemonic BJP and long-term rival, the Left.

So, she has to present herself and West Bengal as the victim of injustice. Her aggression flows from the fact that she has had the consolidated Muslim vote. The BJP would allege that many of them are illegal Bangladeshis who have been insinuated into the electoral rolls. All she needs is a critical slice of other votes to retain power. Even her Muslim votebank will be watching carefully to see whether she manages this, otherwise it will switch to the Left-Congress combine in the bid to keep the BJP out. The recent desertions from the TMC’s ranks will have sent a negative message in this regard.

West Bengal is a good example of the harm populist politics can do over the long run. It is easy to open government coffers for giveaway schemes, but this does not impact at all on the economy, infrastructure, governance and genuine welfare. Sweeping mandates matter little if they are not used for economic and other reforms, however unpopular. Mamata Banerjee frittered away her opportunity. The people know she is unlikely to change her ways should she get another term. So, if they genuinely want the quality of life to improve, they will have to make a break from the traditional politics of the past. If, however, they are still wedded to the idea of a ‘natural’ superiority of the Bengali, Didi might get her way.