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Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee Tuesday continued her hunger strike for the second day Tuesday against farmland allocation for an industrial project.  Social activist Medha Patkar continued her hunger strike on Tuesday. Social activist Medha Patkar continued her hunger strike on Tuesday. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Tuesday appealed to Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee and social activist Medha Patkar to end their fast. After BJP President Rajnath Singh, it was the turn of NDA Convenor, George Fernandes to join ally Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee.

Conventional wisdom would be to dismiss away the events in Singur as a Mamata inspired ruckus to boost her lumpen style politics. The vandalism by legislators of her party inside the West Bengal assembly goes further to confirm conventional thinking. But then there used to be the adage: what Bengal thinks today, the rest of India thinks tomorrow. The unexpected plunge into political turmoil in West Bengal over the return of manufacturing, via the Tata’s small car factory project at Singur has raised speculation on what it means to the CPI-M UPA relationship and if this was the thin end of the wedge ?

The politics over Singur defies conventional wisdom in every sense of the word. What you have in Singur is a democratic Government run by an unapologetically communist party working overtime to defend a highly controversial political decision to allocate what was once agricultural land to a business house that has been the symbol of capitalism and free enterprise. You have the Communists comrade in arms in every other sense the pro-naxal organizations protesting the Communist decision. You have known corporate and government baiter Medha Patkar protesting the communist decision. Keeping all of them company the mercurial Mamata Bannerjee. And adding fuel to all this fire is the BJP joining the protests with rather unusual eagerness.

So what explains the BJP move to plunge headlong into the protests with Mamta to the point where its President Rajnath Singh made a sudden decision to go to Singur only to get arrested midway. Rajnath skipped a meeting with President APJ Abdul Kalam on Uttar Pradesh affairs to be in Kolkata to express solidarity with her on the Singur issue. Ironically, Mamata had ditched the BJP only last month to join hands with the Congress for the recent by-polls in the state. The Trinamool and Congress came together after several years on the Singur issue. The success of the 12-hour strike called by the Trinamool Congress on October 9 was credited to the Congress’ support.

Any conventional read of the turn of events in West Bengal would be a mistake given the unconventional politics at play in West Bengal. Many reasons have been attributed to the BJP’s eager beaver support to Mamata ranging from preventing her cosying up to the Congress to Rajnath’s eagerness for taking up farmer’s causes. On the face of it Rajnath’s public pronouncements seemed to highlight the farmer angle.

But let us take a hard look at the reality. The reality is West Bengal is not due for polls in another 5 years. The Left has an overwhelming majority in the Bengal Assembly. Mamata while a useful ally does not make or break the NDA’s chances in the next elections, especially given the drubbing she has suffered in the assembly polls and how low her stock is with the conduct of her party in recent times. So the overtly agrarian courtship playing out in Bengal has a deeper objective. To understand that let us look at the math in the Lok Sabha. The stability of the Manmohan Singh dispensation despite just a 10 seat edge over the BJP stems from the 60 odd Leftist members of parliament from West Bengal and Kerala. The current Lok Sabha is unique in that none of the smaller outfits in the UPA has the ability to bring down the government on its own. In fact the only outfit with the numbers and potential motivation to bring down the government are the communists. But then the sum of all secular fears represented by the BJP has kept them united thus far. The only scenario where the Left could withdraw support to the Manmohan Singh Sonia Gandhi UPA would be over a issue with the potential to drive a wedge between these so called secular allies. There in lies the BJP’s calculation. What better a wedge issue to test the secular unity than to corner and embarass the Communists defending a Capitalist cause in their backyard with tacit congress support. Sensing the wedge potential of these protests the central government expressed its support to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s drive for industrialisation putting the West Bengal congress in a spot.

Offstumped Wager: Most of the mainstream media is viewing the Singur issue with conventional lenses making it about unreasonable street politics versus development oriented governance. While this makes sense the underlying politics defies conventional political wisdom. The tipping point could be a very violent turn of events triggering a heavy response from the state government which could throw up imponderables for the Congress and the CPI-M at the Centre. The key question here is how far is Mamata prepared to go before either she or the CPI-M blinks. The mercurial leader is waging the political bet of her life and she may very well be prepared to take this to the brink. That brink could very well be at the thin edge of the Congress CPI-M relationship. 

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