Two formidable challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi are fast evaporating under the weight of superior strategising by the BJP —- that of the Mayawati-Akhilesh combine in Uttar Pradesh and of the acerbic and volatile Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal.
So bitter was the association between BSP supremo Mayawati and the Yadavs — Samajwadi Party (SP) founder Mulayam and to a lesser extent son Akhilesh — until they got on to their unbelievably conciliatory best in the interests of sweeping the Lok Sabha elections from UP that the bonhomie looked deceptively unreal.
There was goodwill being lavishly expended on each other and the acrimony seemed distant. Some who knew Mayawati and the Yadavs closely deciphered that this was dramatics at its best and predicted that the bad blood between them would show up again.
Indeed, it took a setback in the Lok Sabha polls for the proverbial swords to come out again. In a series of tweets, Mayawati announced that the BSP would fight all elections on its own in future. That meant the municipal polls now and the Assembly polls two years hence, besides other polls.
She complained, “It is known that all our old grievances with the SP were kept aside, along with the anti-Dalit and anti-BSP decisions taken by the SP government between 2012 and 2017, works carried out that were against reservation in promotion and deteriorating law and order situation were all kept aside and an alliance was formed in public interest which was honoured completely.
“Therefore, in the interest of the party and the movement, now BSP will contest all future elections, big and small, on its own,” she said.
This is typical harakiri which signifies how the Opposition has packed up after the elections. Parallel to that is the spectacle of a sulking Rahul Gandhi, acting pricey in a party, that he has reduced to an ineffective cabal which wants to continue banking on the Nehru-Gandhi charisma, using him as a symbol.
The crucial salvo was fired when Mayawati attacked Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and son Akhilesh during the party’s national convention at its headquarters in Lucknow. Accusing Mulayam of “working hand in glove with the BJP”, Mayawati said that the
former Uttar Pradesh chief minister conspired with the saffron party to frame her in the Taj corridor case.
The case pertains to alleged corruption in the Rs 17-crore corridor project, launched by Mayawati in 2012 when she was the chief minister of UP for the beautification of areas near the Taj Mahal. The Supreme Court had ordered the CBI to probe the alleged Taj Heritage Corridor scam.
Along with Mayawati’s broadsides against the Yadavs came her decision to induct her brother Anand Kumar as national vice-president of BSP and her nephew as coordinator, making short shrift of earlier charges of nepotism against her.
At the other end of the spectrum West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, is breathing fire at the BJP after her hopes of displacing Prime Minister Modi from the prime ministerial ‘gaddi’ were dashed. But the more she shows her anger and exasperation the more vulnerable she looks in her bid to cling on to power.
Her attempts to get the Kolkata police chief to cock a snook at the CBI came acropper as the CBI showed him his place. The biggest blow to Mamata, however, came with the Lok Sabha results when the BJP grew from two seats in 2014 to a whopping 18 seats of the total of 42 this time around.
The vote share of BJP also shot up to 40 per cent indicative of an accretion in its strength.
For a leader who, after a tie-up with the SP could manage only 10 of 80 seats from UP to be so brazen as to spurn the arrangement with SP is seemingly foolhardy.
Will Mayawati succeed in her gamble to win sizeable support or would she fade away as an inconsequential sectional leader is a moot question but the fact remains that a golden opportunity for Opposition consolidation has been frittered away.
The manner in which Mamata Banerjee marginalised the Left and the Congress and emerged as a giant-killer was remarkable, but today she is arrogance personified and is losing her magical touch with the people even as the BJP cashes in on public disenchantment with her.
The way the BJP is growing in West Bengal, it is quite on the cards that Modi’s bête noire Mayawati and her Trinamool Congress are in for a beating in the Assembly elections, something that was unthinkable until recently.
The appeasement of the creamy layer of the Muslim minority by the Trinamool and the counter appeasement of the Hindus by the BJP do not bode well for the state and its people. It is unleashing tensions, some of which were latent but simmering.
The Left before her and the Trinamool in recent times have shooed industry away from Bengal leaving the economy in tatters and the job situation in dire straits. Bengalis, many of them very bright and dynamic, have had to perforce look elsewhere for jobs.
Investment in the State is shying away for far too long and the people are looking for change to reinvigorate and re-energise Bengal, harnessing the tremendous wealth of brain power among the Bengalis who are intrinsically gifted people.
Whether it is Modi and the BJP that will have the last laugh in the states of UP and West Bengal or Modi’s detractors would rule the roost only time will tell but as of now it is advantage Modi with little challenge in sight.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.