Mamata's federal front a political ploy?

Kolkata, June 15 (IANS) Besieged by problems galore at home, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has proposed the formation of a federal front consisting of non-Congress and non-BJP parties. However, Banerjee's opponents have termed the proposal as a ploy to bargain with the Congress and the Bharaitya Janata Party and divert public attention from the regime's shortcomings.

"We welcome all parties that are opposed to the BJP and Congress even if it's the Samajwadi Party or the (Mayawati-led) Bahujan Samaj Party. But these parties will have to severe their ties with the UPA," Trinamool leader Sultan Ahmed told IANS.

The Trinamool Congress chief unveiled her proposal on Facebook at a time when the state is dealing with one of the biggest financial scams in its history -- the Saradha Group chit fund scandal.

Besides, the government and the State Election Commission have been involved in a tug of war over security measures for the upcoming panchayat (rural body) polls, and the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data has put the state atop the chart concerning atrocities against women.

Banerjee, who seems to have taken upon herself the task of spearheading the war against former ally Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, floated the idea for the formation of the federal front by urging regional parties opposed to the BJP and the Congress to unite.

With speculations rife that the Janata Dal United (JD-U) is likely to snap its 17-year-old alliance with the BJP to oppose Narendra Modi's appointment as BJP's election campaign committee chief, Banerjee was quick to reach out to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Besides Nitish Kumar, who virtually controls the JD(U), she also called up Biju Janata Dal supremo and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik as well as former Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi, who quit the BJP in 2006 and formed the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik).

The formation of an alternative front got some boost after both Nitish Kumar and Patnaik expressed their confidence in the idea. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, too, has expressed its willingness to contribute towards building a non-UPA, non-NDA front.

In its bid to conjure an alternative front, the Trinamool is even willing to welcome the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party, with which it had a bitter experience during the presidential poll last year. Mulayam had then held a joint media meet with Banerjee before doing a volte-face and supporting Congress's candidate Pranab Mukherjee.

The Left Front, Congress, as well as the BJP, have all ridiculed Banerjee's federal front.

If the Left dubbed it as a "ploy by Banerjee to increase her bargaining power with the BJP and Congress before the 2014 elections", the BJP called it a "manoeuvre to divert public attention from the problems her government is facing".

State Congress chief Pradip Bhattacharya said: "She should name the prime ministerial candiadate of her alliance. Or if she wants to be PM (prime minister), she should say so."

Meanwhile, the NCRB's report that 30,942 incidents of crime against women were recorded in Bengal in 2012 has added to the embarrassment of the beleaguered Banerjee regime, which had been facing flak over a gang-rape and murder within a week in the state.

The Banerjee government was quick to contest the NCRB's data, saying the agency did not publish the state's disclaimer that rapes and grave crimes have declined.

"Rape as well as other heinous crimes against women have come down in West Bengal. But the NCRB refused to publish our disclaimer despite our communication," Director General of Police Naparajit Mukherjee said.

While the opposition was quick to deride the Trinamool regime, rights groups and activists hit the streets demanding security for women. Several women activists holding demonstrations near Banerjee's residence were arrested, which attracted criticism from the civil society.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at deyvil@gmail.com)

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