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Mainstream, VOL LX No 12, New Delhi, March 12, 2022

Alternative to Narendra Modi: Is Mamata Banerjee the answer? | K N Ninan

Friday 11 March 2022

by K N Ninan *

While Indians await the results of the ongoing assembly elections to gauge which way the wind is blowing in the country, either for or against the ruling BJP, both BJP and opposition leaders have started manoeuvring in preparation for the 2024 general elections in the country. While the Modi government talks of ‘Amrit Kaal’, opposition leaders such as Mamata Banerjee and K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) have taken the initiative to form an anti-BJP front to take on the ruling BJP in the next general elections.

 To her credit one must concede that unlike most current Indian leaders and politicians who lead luxurious lives at the cost of taxpayers, Mamata who hails from a poor family has been known for her modest lifestyle. She does not wear signature sarees or travel around in imported bullet proof cars costing over Rs 12 crores or fly around in planes costing Rs 8400 crores. Mamata has wide experience as a Union cabinet minister during both the NDA and UPA regimes. Her leadership to the farmers’ agitation in Nandigram and Singur against the acquisition of farmlands for a Tata car project catapulted her to power in West Bengal in May 2011. She is now serving her third term as Chief Minister of West Bengal.

 Despite all odds ranged against her in the elections held to the West Bengal assembly last December such as anti-incumbency, the perceived partisanship of the Election Commission and the Governor, intensive campaigning by BJP leaders led by Modi and Shah, poaching of her party MLAs and leaders by the BJP, ED and IT raids on TMC leaders including her nephew, physical attack on her while campaigning, biased election coverage by sections of the media, Mamata confounded all pollsters and won a resounding victory over the BJP winning a two-thirds majority in the West Bengal Assembly which enhanced her stature.

Mamata however is known for her temperamental and autocratic nature. In March 2012 she pressurised then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to sack her TMC party colleague and Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi after he announced a hike in railway fares in the railway budget probably to shore up her pro-aam aadmi image.

In May 2012 when the UPA decided to support Pranab Mukherjee for the post of President of India, Mamata was opposed to his candidature perhaps because she felt her own ambition of being President or Prime Minister will be affected if another fellow Bengali was elected to the post. It was only after she was reportedly threatened by the UPA that if she didn’t back him or abstained from voting she would have to quit the UPA government. She relented reluctantly but as per a news report she stated: It really hurts to take this decision. The mind is left with sadness. However, we took the decision in the larger interests of democracy, and coalition politics.” (Economic Times, July 18, 2012). Contrast Mamata’ s stand with that of then Shiv Sena Chief, Bal Thackeray who broke ranks with the BJP-led NDA and supported fellow Marathi and UPA candidate, Pratibha Patil for the President’s post in 2007 and Pranab Mukherjee in 2012.

Lest we forget Mamata Banerjee who is now opposed to the Modi-led BJP Government was a Minister in the BJP-led NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee during the period 1999 to 2004. Even at that time she was known for her tantrums and pressure tactics. For instance, owing to her insistence, Vajpayee had to get then Defence Minister George Fernandes to resign for his alleged involvement in the Kargil coffin scam.
On February 12 we were told that to assert her supremacy Mamata had sacked all TMC organisational committees including her nephew Abhishek Banerjee from his post. But few days later news came that he had been reinstated as TMC general secretary!

To shore up her image as a national leader she even addressed an election meeting in Uttar Pradesh recently along with Akhilesh Yadav in support of the Samajwadi party. But she also stated that in the 2024 general elections the TMC, despite being non-existent in Uttar Pradesh will put up candidates in all Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. Is this to further her claim of forging an anti-BJP alliance or to buttress her own ambition to be Prime Minister in a non-BJP government at the Centre?

The track record of both Mamata and KCR in opposing the BJP are from inspiring for those yearning for a change. While Mamata was part of a BJP government in the past, KCR’s TRS along with Naveen Patnaik’s BJD had bailed out the Modi government in the Rajya Sabha when important legislations opposed by the Congress and other opposition parties were passed. Both are known for their authoritarian ways. KCR who abused Rahul Gandhi in the past recently defended him against the remarks made by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. To spread TMC’s footprint in the country Mamata has been poaching deadwood from the Congress. Is this to strengthen the proposed anti-BJP front or indirectly help the BJP by weakening the Congress which has a presence in most Indian states?

Unless opposition leaders put aside their personal egos and ambitions for the larger good and offer an alternative vision based on equal respect for all religions, communities and cultures, prospects for such a front defeating the BJP in the 2024 general elections are dim. Indians are looking forward to being led by statesmen of the stature of Pandit Nehru and Atal Behari Vajpayee who respect the constitution both in letter and spirit and guided by the principle of ‘rajdharma’ as emphasised by Vajpayee after the 2002 Gujarat riots.

* (The author is an economist)

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