New Delhi/Kolkata, June 15 : In what is all set to be the latest Centre versus States flashpoint and Mamata Banerjee emerging as the face of the opposition, outshining the Congress party, provisions of the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 have given reason enough for the West Bengal Chief Minister to shoot off a letter to key non-BJP Chief Ministers and prominent non-BJP leaders.
The move is to make a compelling case of alleged violations of federal structure by the Centre, say officials in the know. However, interestingly, Banerjee”s move is also a strategy to counter Congress leader Rahul Gandhi emerging as a leading voice of criticism when it comes to the Centre”s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, say Trinamool Congress insiders.
Banerjee has written to Congress Chief Ministers like Punjab”s Amarinder Singh, Rajasthan”s Ashok Gehlot and Chhattisgarh”s Bhupesh Baghel. She has also shot off angry letters criticising the Modi government”s move to non-Congress, non-BJP CMs like Telangana”s K Chandrashekhar Rao and Andhra Pradesh”s Jagan Mohan Reddy too. She has also reached out to key political figures who are not in power like DMK supremo MK Stalin.
This letter writing spree comes in the wake of a letter by Banerjee addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself where she called for a status quo on the issue of power tariffs and criticised him for “not consulting” with states since power is a matter where both Centre and states share the responsibilities.
A senior leader of the TMC and a trusted aide of Banerjee told IANS, “Didi (Mamata Banerjee) considers it ”anti-people”. She has a natural flair for taking up issues of the poor since the Singur days. She is convinced, this amendment can be stopped.”
The problems arose from one provision from the Bill where the benefit of subsidy is to be granted directly to the consumer and the electricity providing company can charge the consumers as per the tariff determined by the commission. In other words, electricity bills will go up and the subsidy will be transferred directly to bank accounts of the consumer.
TMC argues, many consumers don”t have bank accounts and even if they do have are not in a position to pay the steep bill in the first place. The Trinamool supremo has found a reason to corner the Modi government at a time when even the sustained lockdown seemed to have been unable to dent Modi”s popularity ratings.
Moreover, the draft Bill proposes to form a regulatory commission to determine uniform tariff rates across India which leaves the states having no say as far as the tariff goes.
But this is not the first time, Banerjee has tried to unite the opposition. Last December, when the then Citizenship Amendment Bill was generating a lot of political discourse, Banerjee wrote a long letter to the NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah, and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi against the CAA and the proposed nationwide NRC.
“Today, I write this letter to you with grave worries in my mind. The citizens of this country irrespective of caste and creed, particularly the women and children, farmers, workers and members of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, OBCs and minorities are in the grip of fear and panic for the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed nationwide NRC. The situation is very serious,” Banerjee had written back then which made the Modi government go easy on NRC.
Banerjee hopes to repeat the same this time as well. Sources say she is pitching for an opposition meet where party chiefs and opposition CMs attend to discuss the issue. While many see it as Banerjee”s effort to emerge as the face of the opposition, it is also an endeavour to outshine the last opposition meet called by the Congress party which wasn”t attended by all outfits from the opposition benches.
Question is, can Mamata Banerjee, whose ”Democracy under threat” letter made her the face of the opposition last winter and left the Congress the prime opposition party cornered, repeat the same with the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020?
(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at [email protected])