General elections are around the corner in India and the opposition parties don’t want to lose any chance to corner the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, the opposition has many candidates for the prime minister’s post and no one is willing to cede any space in the opposition against the current PM Narendra Modi to any other. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, also the head of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), is one of them.
Banerjee’s political calculation is that the BJP on its own will not be able to cross the 200-seat mark in the Lok Sabha, lower house of Parliament, and that the main opposition Indian National Congress (INC) will get around 100 seats. In such a case, regional parties would emerge as the deciding factor, similar to what happened when the leaders of the third-largest party, Janata Dal, H D Devegowda and Inder Kumar Gujral, were elected as prime ministers in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Banerjee is also eagerly waiting for such a political moment to fulfill her wish to become the first Bengali prime minister of India.
That’s the reason she doesn’t miss any opportunity to criticize Modi. By constantly attacking him, she is actually trying to portray herself as the main opposition leader. Her recent three-day sit-in in central Kolkata, and then lending support to protests against the Modi government led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, where she herself shared the dais with Kejriwal, clearly indicate her political strategy: Draw headlines as much as possible in opposition against the Modi-led BJP government.
But the important question is, why is Banerjee mounting these attacks? Her Trinamool Congress party was earlier a potential partner of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, and she herself was a cabinet minister in the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The fact is, Banerjee always likes to play the character of an opposition leader with an apparent political agenda – take one issue and blow it out of proportion to reap political benefits. She did that earlier many times to dislodge the Communist Party of India (Marxist)–led Left Front from West Bengal but failed. It was only in 2006-07, when she was facing a low period in her political career, that the hasty decision of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-led Left government of that time to set up a Tata Nano car plant in Singur overriding the concerns of some farmers boosted her political career. She never cared for the loss to West Bengal’s economy for her agitation but was more eager to revive her own political stock – which she did vigorously.
Banerjee is no longer an opposition leader; she has been the chief minister of the state for the last eight years. Although she claims there is development everywhere in West Bengal, the truth is youth in the state are demanding jobs and there is clearly visible distress in the rural areas
However, the present situation is different. She is no longer an opposition leader; she has been the chief minister of the state for the last eight years. Although she claims there is development everywhere in West Bengal, the truth is youth in the state are demanding jobs and there is clearly visible distress in the rural areas. Potato farmers in the state are facing problems due to Banerjee’s decision to ban the sale of potatoes to other states, plus there are cases of rising farmer suicides in West Bengal. Not only this, her government has failed to attract any major investment in the state despite her travels to Singapore and London – thanks to her anti-industrial movement in Singur, which gave her political mileage at the cost of West Bengal’s interests.
Another truth is, on February 3, the day she began her sit-in against the Modi government, thereby becoming the focal point of Indian politics, the opposition Left Front organized a massive rally of around million people in the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata. It was really a big surprise that the beleaguered Left, which currently has no leaders with mass appeal, and which lost its opposition space to the BJP, was successful in organizing such a huge rally against both Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee. But it was evident from the rally that the crowds were more enthusiastic when the Left leaders criticized Banerjee in comparison with Modi.
It is also true that the BJP is gaining ground, especially in the districts bordering Bangladesh, banking on Hindu polarization. The BJP’s rallies, especially those addressed by Narendra Modi, are drawing huge crowds despite the saffron party’s weak organization in the state.
In West Bengal, the BJP has made gains at the expense of the Left, and at present there are signs of an emerging CPI(M) in the state – which means the Left and the BJP are competing against each other to emerge as the stronger voice against Trinamool. In politics it is said that division of the opposition parties actually helps the ruling party. But in Bengal there is another side too. Although the BJP and CPI(M) are ideologically on opposite poles, in West Bengal there is no such ideological barrier on the ground as the supporters of both the parties are strictly anti-Banerjee. This is the main worry for Banerjee, who is even trying to send soft signals to her once arch-rival CPI(M), which has been successful in launching movements highlighting her failures in the agricultural and economic sectors, in the battle against the Modi-led BJP.
In the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, there are strong possibilities of anti-Banerjee voters irrespective of parties voting against Trinamool candidates. In such cases, there are possibilities that Trinamool may benefit if there is no complete vote transfer between the Left and the BJP. But the fact that increases Banerjee’s woes is that most of the saffron supporters in the state were earlier supporters of the Left, who left the weak Marxist camp to join the stronger saffron camp in order to oust Mamata Banerjee.
The opposition rallies and movements by both the BJP and the Left are drawing huge crowds, which means everything is not fine for Mamata Banerjee and there are possibilities that Trinamool may see its tally in the Lok Sabha dipping from the current 34 seats. It is this bitter fact that is pushing Banerjee to oppose Modi, as she always needs an issue to suit her opposition character vital for her survival. However, this time it will be difficult for her, as there are signs of growing anti-incumbency against her in West Bengal.