True, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has no love lost for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The ruling party at the Centre had done everything possible to deny her another term. Yet, she came back to power, although she had to eat humble pie in her own constituency and get elected from another constituency in a by-election. If there was a flow of leaders from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to the BJP at one time, the reverse is now the case. As one top BJP leader said, the party would have difficulty finding candidates in future elections. She is truly the lord of all that she surveys in West Bengal.
What helped her clinch the issue against the BJP was the unstinted support she received from the people, who would have otherwise supported the CPM or the Congress. To have ambition in politics is welcome. In fact, ambition often helps people to remain rooted in politics in the hope that something better will happen in the future. But over-ambition is not good at all. It can force the person concerned to overlook what is common sense, so as to whistle in the dark. It can land the person or the party in trouble.
That the TMC could engineer the defection of 12 Congress MLAs in Meghalaya might be attributed to the clever stratagem of election specialist Prashant Kishor but Banerjee had to pay a price for it. The burden of her song has been that the BJP is so unscrupulous that it would use institutions like Customs to harass persons like Mahesh Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan. But, then, how is the defection from the Congress to the TMC any different from the strategy employed by the BJP to capture power in Shillong? Both are guilty of promoting defection.
Come to think of it, the Congress is the pre-eminent opposition party, which is still in power in many states. The BJP wants a Congress-free polity only because it knows that it is the only party which has a pan-India following and can provide it a challenge. It knows that the TMC is, at best, a regional party. It does not have any roots in any other state. It tried its luck in the recent municipal elections in Tripura, where the Bengalis are a decisive force, but it could not make much headway, although it won more votes than the CPM and the Congress put together. It has to go a long way to turn the tables against the BJP in the Tripura Assembly elections due in 2023.
Her plan is obvious from the kind of people she meets or does not meet. When she was in Delhi for three days recently, she preferred to meet the BJP’s Subramaniam Swamy, who has a reputation for biting the hand that feeds him, instead of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi or her son Rahul Gandhi. Where she is not able to get 12 MLAs as in Meghalaya, she is satisfied with getting discards from the JDU and the Congress, like Pavan Varma and Kirti Azad.
Banerjee would have been happy to relabel the Congress as the TMC in Goa but her efforts have not succeeded. In Maharashtra, where she finds a link with Bengal, as noted originally by poet-laureate Rabindranath Tagore, her plan is quite different. She wants to cultivate non-Congress parties and leaders like Sharad Pawar, so that in 2024 when elections to Parliament are held, she can try her hand at prime ministership a la HD Deve Gowda, whose party did not have even 50 seats in 1996 when he became the Prime Minister with the support of the Left parties and the Congress.
It is such calculations that have forced her to go on a ‘Bharat Darshan’. She would have done well if she had stuck to her ideological instincts and proved as doughty against the BJP in the rest of the country as she was in West Bengal. What she should realise is that if she is serious about dislodging the BJP from power in 2024, she should do everything possible to strengthen opposition unity so that the anti-BJP votes are not split. She may be the Bengal tigress like the late Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu but she cannot command the support of people outside of West Bengal as the AIADMK leader could not. The earlier she realises this, the better it is for her.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)