Suddenly, the nation is witnessing a surge in the political tours of Ms Mamata Banerjee. Her desire to emerge as the new head of the so-called opposition unity is not hidden anymore. Having tested blood in West Bengal, the Sundarban tigress is now trying to push the Congress to the periphery. Her national ambitions are so intense that she made a sitting MP resign to accommodate a new entrant from another party. She offered a Rajya Sabha seat on a platter to Congress veteran Luizinho Falerio, clearly indicating that deserters will be decorated. Maharashtra seems to be next on her menu card.
Prior to her visit to Mumbai, in Delhi she took a swipe at Ms Sonia Gandhi, asking whether it is a constitutional mandate to call on her during every trip. Writing an obituary for the era of alliances with the Congress at the Centre, she asked, “Where is the UPA?” Without sparing the prince of the ‘family’, she commented, “If some leaders keep visiting abroad every now and then, what can we do?” Now, the Congress has taken issue and criticised Mamata for her remarks. For obvious reasons, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar dismissed the idea of an opposition alliance minus the Congress.
All this is entertaining and educational at the same time. Entertaining because of the multiple contradictions inherent in Mamata’s recent political moves. Although none has said it in so many words, she is aiming to lead the nation with her eyes set on the position of prime minister. By suggesting that a pan-India alliance of non-NDA parties without the Congress is possible, Mamata is eyeing all those regional outfits that refuse to play ball with the Congress.
However, at least for three clear reasons, Mamata is more likely to fail than succeed in her bid. Her style of leadership is marked by her temperamental nature and evokes no confidence. Besides, her abysmal track record in governance and absence of any national vision are the other two serious issues that underscore her inherent limitations.
To start with, let’s understand that Mamata is not known for building a well-knit party organisation. It is common knowledge that the lumpen elements in West Bengal, having deserted the CPM, joined the TMC and in election after election, played a key role in Mamata’s success. The victories of her party are more about the reign of terror unleashed by the TMC in rural West Bengal complemented by strong arm-twisting in urban areas. The famous Bhadralok of Bengal have happily continued to turn a Nelson’s eye to all this.
True that starting from Uttar Pradesh, regions like Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and perhaps even Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir do provide a significant political space for non-Congress, non-BJP parties. However, that does not automatically mean that Mamata could wean over these parties. This is because regardless of her three back-to-back victories in Bengal, she fails to provide any reassuring and dependable leadership that can take allies along. She is known for being temperamental, unpredictable and consequently inconsistent in her approach.
Once a young, firebrand leader who courageously challenged the draconian rule of the Communists, sadly today Mamata has failed to write any new chapter in the governance history of West Bengal. In 2005 as Lok Sabha member, Mamata had fought with the then Speaker to allow her to raise the issue of illegal infiltration from Bangladesh. However, 15 years later, she refuses to recognise this challenge since she has to protect her vote bank. Notwithstanding the eloquent silence of sections of mainstream media, it is a fact that Mamata couldn’t rise above partisan considerations. She couldn’t prevent bloodshed and atrocities on women members of families of BJP supporters after the last Assembly elections. Ironically, those who pooh-pooh others as Godi media cannot answer why many sections of mainstream media do not dare to hold a mirror to Ms Banerjee.
Last but not least is her lack of any pan-India vision. Nobody knows about her opinion on major national issues. Talking from the rooftops about federalism today, her tenure as Railway minister was marked by favours to her own state. Besides, once a challenger to the establishment, today she herself is the establishment in multiple ways.
In the late 1990s, she hoisted a flag of revolt claiming that she represents the grassroots and hence named her party as Trinamool Congress. But today, encircled by admirers and fixers, her own party’s grassroots are realising that they are simply a part of an election-fighting machine.
This was bound to happen as her party is fast becoming another Congress and in that sense, a true ‘alternative to the Congress’. Those who have deserted the Congress to embrace the TMC know it very well that they have just to change the portraits on the wall. In place of Sonia and Rahul, now it is Mamata and Abhishek. It’s not switching parties, it’s just switching dynasties. All this would leave Mamata’s dreams qualitatively not different in any way from those of Mungerilal, for sure.
President, ICCR, and BJP Rajya Sabha MP