Khela abaar hobe: On the recent snooping scandal

From seeing India from the prism of West Bengal, Mamata has widened her vision to view India beyond the state and willingly equip herself to add a national dimension and perspective to what till now was her regional identity

True to form, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee covered the camera of her mobile phone to hit out at the Government for the recent snooping scandal that has hit opinion makers in the country.

“I have plastered my phone because they tap everything, be it video or audio,” said Mamata Banerjee, showing her mobile phone covered with tape.

Claiming that she is unable to speak to her counterparts in Delhi and Odisha, Banerjee accused the Centre of converting the country into a surveillance state: “Freedom is in danger. The BJP is responsible. Spy-giri is going on. Phones of ministers, judges are being tapped. They have finished the democratic structure,” Banerjee said.

The Narendra Modi-led government is in the eye of a storm over allegations of hiring and using Israel’s NSO group for surveillance.Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is among the politicians who was on the list along with some ministers in Modi’s government. Whether this was to gain credibility of Government’s hands-off policy is debatable but the Opposition has trained its guns on the Government for snooping.

Politicians apart, well known journalists, activists, businessmen and even judges are on this list, their phones allegedly “infiltrated” to monitor text messages, camera feeds and microphones through Pegasus a spying tool.

Pegasus, as is well known, is a spyware suite sold by Israel’s NSO group to “vetted government clients” and not to private entities., Therefore, the Indian government denying its role in the snooping scam falls flat on its face.

That Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek was among those on the spying list, was reason enough for the Trinamool Congress to train its guns on the BJP.

While the Congress renamed the BJP as “Bharatiya Jasoosi Party”, Abhishek has dared Union Minister Amit Shah to come back well prepared for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls adding that Shah was unable to save face following the BJP’s drubbing in the recent assembly polls in Bengal: “Two Minutes of SILENCE for the SORE LOSERS! Despite ALLIES like ED, CBI, NIA, IT, ECI, @BJP4India’’s money + might and #PegasusSpying Mr @AmitShah couldn’’t save his face in #BengalElections2021. Please COME Prepared with Better RESOURCES in 2024!,” he had tweeted.

The 2024 call is not premature. If anything, it is in keeping with what Mamata Banerjee has been saying all along, reiterating it in her Martyrs’ Day speech. For the uninitiated, Martyrs’ Day marks the firing on protestors in Kolkata by the then ruling Left Front government on July 21, 1993.

During her speech, Banerjee made it clear that the Opposition should not be caught napping: “We should plan for 2024 fight from now. Nothing can be done by a doctor who comes after the patient has died. The patient can be saved if treatment is given on time. Now is your time. The more time you waste, the more the situation will worsen,” the Chief Minister had said urging all Opposition parties to unite and defeat the BJP in 2024.

The significance of the event was marked by giant screens installed in public places and TMC offices. It was also one that went beyond Bengal including the states of Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh.

It is common knowledge that the TMC is working towards emerging as a main challenger of the BJP in Tripura in the assembly elections due in 2023. Equally, it is working towards gaining a foothold in Uttar Pradesh where state elections are due next year.

Interestingly, senior leaders from major Opposition parties had gathered at New Delhi’s Constitution Club to hear Banerjee speak.

Banerjee’s address was telecast live to a select audience that included NCP’s Sharad Pawar, Congress’ P.Chidambaram, Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva and AAP’s Sanjay Singh among others.

What, however, stood out was that Banerjee spoke in three languages: Bangla, English and Hindi: clearly an outreach to the non-Bangla speaking segments of the population living outside her home state or to quote a political observer “woo non-Bengalis more than the Bengali speaking community in her state…a notable departure from the times she used to criticize Hindi speaking leaders …”

The narrative: put the Modi government in the dock; hit out at its failures; count the dead during the pandemic; and speak about BJP’s lust for power and its motto to “capture election, capture judiciary, capture media houses” Banerjee said.

That the BJP is at its lowest ebb is a given. It has received flak for mismanaging the second surge of the pandemic, a steep increase in fuel prices, the unending farmers protest and the latest snooping scandal. Hence, it is a “now or never” kind of a situation that the Opposition would be foolish not to cash in on.

Therefore, Banerjee’s warning that the work to build an alliance cannot start a year before the elections: “Every moment is crucial” Banerjee told her friends in the Opposition. The narrative, to borrow a television idiom: Your Time starts now. The Martyrs Day event is but a baby step: a kind of precursor to events which would gradually unfold.

Ahead of Banerjee’s politically significant visit to Delhi, her first after her stupendous victory, the TMC named the feisty leader, the Chairperson of its Parliamentary Party, thus giving her a wider role in national politics.

Irrespective of a post, it is Banerjee’s writ that runs in the TMC which is clearly a one-woman show. Therefore, being named Chairperson has little significance but as MP Derek O’Brien said, it is a “strategic decision”.

Strategy is the key for every move Banerjee is politically choreographing. Having conquered West Bengal, she is now preparing for a much bigger battle: to politically capture India and chase away the demons, as they say.

If reports are anything to go-by, Banerjee had made up her mind to make an imprint nationally soon after her spectacular victory in the assembly elections in her home state.

That apart, several Opposition parties were keenly watching the outcome of the state elections because a decisive victory for Banerjee could pave the way for coming together of like-minded parties to take on the BJP. The outcome of the West Bengal elections was also important because the BJP was hell bent on ousting Banerjee from her home state that she had successfully and successively ruled for nearly a decade. It had not only pulled all sops but did what it took to see her out. But a determined Mamata fought and fought valiantly and finally came home to rule the roost. That it was not an easy win is a given.

Even though hers is a call to the entire Opposition to unite to oust the BJP, it seems Banerjee is not going to invest her energies in stitching processes for a united front. Having given her call and signaled an intent, she would go about doing what she is determined to: namely look beyond Bengal and make the nation her political playground.

Clearly there is a focus shift: from seeing India from the prism of West Bengal to widening her vision to view India beyond Bengal and willingly equip herself to add a national dimension and perspective to what till now was her regional identity. Banerjee is quite open to lay the groundwork for what TMC terms as “national for a fiery regional leader,” making it quite clear that she intends to carve out a “beyond Bengal” role for herself and her party.

Even if the West Bengal elections were state level, the way Banerjee fought them, brought her centre-stage nationally. Her diminutive persona fighting oversized bullies, mostly men, gained her nation-wide sympathy and her victory was a matter of national celebration for the non-BJP factions through the length and breadth of the country. Therefore, Banerjee making a bid for leadership outside her home state is neither premature nor hasty.

However, leadership or donning a national mantle may not necessarily mean making a bid for the country’s top job of being elected Prime Minister. On this, it will have to be one step at a time because even if Banerjee has caught the imagination of the people, it may not be good enough to stack up the numbers in her favour. Also, as things are at the moment, that is a distant dream: 2024 may be too early for that.

Therefore, it would be prudent to aim at ousting or at least weakening the BJP and challenging it nationally: “a front against the BJP in each state” to quote her.

This, however, may not mean that the BJP may lose power altogether. It could be back, perhaps it may be, but in a weakened and fragmented form.

Banerjee perhaps understands this better than many others. If past experience is anything to go by, Banerjee waited for 34 years before being anointed Chief Minister. Therefore, she is well aware that these things don’t come easy. Hence going forward even if her electoral strategy is multi-pronged, her mission is one-point: to see the BJP out, quite similar to what the BJP wanted for her in West Bengal but failed miserably.

Banerjee wants to take no such chances and hence her call to “start now”. Logically, three years may seem a long time but in Banerjee’s scheme of things, the clock is ticking.

Even though Opposition unity is something Banerjee would ideally wish for, she will not lose sleep over it. Her recent visit to Delhi, her meetings with consequential leaders are a sure step in the direction of opposition unity, but she is quite prepared to go alone if things don’t pan out as she would like them to.

A loner, Banerjee has often fought alone, her comfort zone the highest when she is calling the shots. Equally, she is quite comfortable leading from the front, irrespective of the bullets that are fired. She has braved them in the past and is quite willing to do so in future.

Consequently, she would, if circumstances demand, vacillate between twin slogans: Akela cholo, walk alone and Khela hobe, game will happen: the first for herself and the second for the BJP: “The BJP took India to darkness. ‘Khela’ will happen in all states until BJP is removed from the country. “Khela aabaar hobe, aar jeta hobe”, there will be a replay and we will win, Banerjee said.

The outcome may not be in Banerjee’s hands and her critics may slam it as wishful thinking but what one cannot take away from her is her intent and resolve to win.