Maa, Mati, Manush, ATM. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee perhaps won’t mind if somebody tweaks her hugely successful political slogan at the end of 2016.
The year 2016 can well go down in India’s economic history as the year when Narendra Modi launched his big-bang fight against black money. It may also be known as the year when Mamata Banerjee launched her high-decibel war on the Modi government. While the remaining 46 days of the year will determine on how the year will eventually be described by posterity, it is already evident that the Trinamool Congress has started making a mark in national politics by playing a role that she has perfected in her 40-year old political career -- that of an opposition leader.
The 61-year old, who is certainly Bengal’s most celebrated opposition leader, is now playing her role to perfection in the past seven days. This has also been a most momentous week in her career as she has found the right platform to project herself as a prominent leader in Delhi, a role that she was seeking since she stormed to power in Bengal for the second time in May.
TRYST WITH CASH
Earlier, cash underlined two of the crucial moments of Mamata Banerjee’s political life – both leaving an unpalatable taste in her mouth. The first exploded on the face of the country in the summer of 2013 when the Saradha scam came to light just a year before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The next one – the Narada cash sting – came at an even more inopportune moment, barely a month before the 2016 assembly elections in Bengal. The two occasions defined two of the most embarrassing moments of her life, but on either she emerged stronger, with no effect on the vote bank. Questions were raised about the integrity of her core team of leaders, and many went to put the taint on her – a full blown CBI and ED investigation also began – but she emerged with a political Teflon coating after the elections that consigned her united opposition to their worst show since Independence.
But this time, Mamata Banerjee has cash, or the absence of it, on her side. And the way she has pounced on an opportunity like a tigress and proceeded to catapult her to the national stage, goes to demonstrate to a countrywide audience how sharp her political reflexes are.
EKNATH SOLKAR ON THE POLITICAL STAGE
Mamata Banerjee’s fingers perhaps began typing her first tweet minutes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi finished his address to the nation on the fateful evening of November 8. She shot her first salvo in the form of a twit perhaps even before her opponent could finish a glass of water after the speech.
“This is a financial chaos and disaster let loose on the common people of India... How they will buy essentials tomorrow?” she wrote. It is clear that she moved with deadly accuracy at the very first moment – that it will be a disaster that will put the common man in untold misery.
“Withdraw this draconian decision immediately,” she followed it up in a few seconds.
Those who have seen her from close were not surprised. She walks briskly, most of the time outpacing those half her age. She thinks and speaks fast, always ready to impatiently interrupt someone else midway that often goes to show that she can anticipate/realise a topic faster than most. On that eveing of November 8, Mamata banerjee employed her cognitive skills and motor neuron functions to optimum use.
It is easy to understand that the astute politician could perhaps see the sequence of events – the Prime Minister refusing to budge from his stand and the cash famine staring the common man in the face – at that moment itself.
On the next few days, the Trinamool chief kept up the criticism in a calibrated manner. On Saturday morning she wrote a poem in Bengali where she wrote the electorate will give the ‘ruler’ triple talaq in the impending elections. That evening the rising opposition culminated in a crescendo in a press conference where she lashed out at Modi for warning Indian’s of “strict action” from Japan and stepped up her rhetoric to the highest since the campaign began.
She urged the entire opposition to come together and said that this the hour for the parties to sink their differences and unite for the sake of the country. She even said she is ready to work with CPI(M) – the party on the opposition of which she built her political career – at this hour, and the very next day she dialled its general secretary Sitaram Yechuri, and extracted a word of cooperation.
Significantly, Left leaders have always maintained that Modi and Mamata have cultivated a secret understanding, and the show of opposition is only a facade to hoodwink the people. Now that the Left have been compelled to sing her tune, further adds to her credit.
Leaders such as Arvind Kejriwal, Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Maywati all started criticising the Prime Minister, but it was clear who was leading and conducting the orchestra.
The following developments were swift. On Monday more than half a dozen parties such as Congress, AAP, JD(U), RJD, CPI, CPI(M), Trinamool met at the Parliament to strike out a strategy to corner the ruling party in both the houses. On Wednesday/Thursday, she may hog the limelight when she is expected to lead a team of opposition leaders to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to discuss the plight of the nation with President Pranab Mukherjee, himself one of the prominent finance administrators of the country.
THE HOUR SO PERFECT
Timing is no less important in politics than in cricket. For Mamata Banerjee, it amounts to nothing less than a political windfall as she was desperately seeking an opportunity to catapult herself into the national arena. It was also the logical step to do after establishing total control over the political space in Bengal.
In a sense time is running out for this woman who has risen from a lower middle class family to vanquish perhaps the strongest regimented political machine of the country, all by herself.
She was born in 1955. At 56, she ousted the CPI(M) and at 61, she consolidated her gains in Bengal. By any account the next few years constitute the golden period when she can take a shot at a bigger role in the national theatre. And this year has been exceptionally generous to her political career.
Over the past two months, she got two platforms to take her appeal beyond Bengal, and she grabbed both opportunities with both hands. On August 31, supreme court upheld her decade-long fight on Singur, struck down the acquisition by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government and ruled that the 997.11 acre land of the Nano factory has to be returned to the farmers of Singur. Overnight, she found a plank to portray herself as the messiah of the farmers, who carried through her street fighter image till the highest court of the land that upheld her stance.
Within a few weeks emerged the issue of the Uniform Civil Code. Like an astute politician – far removed from the foot-in-the-mouth image that became popular during her first term in power (2011-2016), the chief minister stayed in the shadows but allowed her party leaders to take part in agitations and help organise the biggest resistance so far to the BJP plan in Kolkata on November 20, when 350 clerics, scholars and prominent national level leaders of the community such as Lok Sabha member Asaduddin Owaisi and Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind president Maulana Syed Hussain Ahmad Madani will attend in a protest rally where lakhs are supposed to attend.
In the two assembly elections of 2011 and 2016 in Bengal, Trinamool Congress has bagged solid support of the Muslims. They form more than 27% of the state’s population, and Mamata Banerjee knows that she has already come to be known as a friend of the minority community. Helping organise the resistance to the civil code will cement that image across the nation, and will help het gain a firm footing when she steps outside Bengal.
Over the past few months Mamata Banerjee has criticised the ruling establishment at the Centre on a number of issues such as cow politics, ‘infringement on the federal structure of the country’, religious and political intolerance. She has weathered a lot of storm in her own state for decisions to give financial assistance to imams and muezzins, and it has paid off in Bengal.
The cash famine has arrived as a completely unexpected windfall for the leader who was saying aloud her intentions to look outside Bengal since the victory in the assembly elections in May. From the podium of her party’s flagship rally on July 21, she has been saying that the time is ripe for the party to look at Delhi.
Interestingly, about a month ago, the Election Commission of India bestowed Trinamool Congress the label of a national party – ne mean feat for a woman who launched the outfit on January 1, 1998.
HER BEST OPPORTUNITY SO FAR
There are many who are leery of Mamata Banerjee’s real intentions. Since her outburst, there have been a number of voices from Bengal itself that she is actually voicing the concern of many Trinamool leaders who are worried over the Saradha cash. The taunts are not only hurled by political opposition but are also doing the rounds in social media. BJP leaders from Delhi have been quick to hit this particularly raw nerve of the Bengal chief minister.
Mamata Banerjee knows the odds against her too well. She has emerged as the face of a disparate group of parties and political cultures that are feigning to come together on the sole plank of opposition to BJP, or more precisely Narendra Modi. Each party has its own agenda and the elements that are putting up a show of unity can move out into its own orbit any moment.
She suffered quite a few rude knocks earlier. In June 2012 Samajwadi Party left her in a soup on the issue of backing a candidate for the Presidential election. In March 2014, she had to deliver an address to a collection of red plastic chairs when Anna Hazare did not turn up in a much hyped Didi-Anna joint venture show in Delhi.
The Trinamool leader also knows that she is an ‘outsider’ in Delhi, and her party carries a distinctly ‘non-Hindi belt’ flavour that makes her political pitch all the more difficult in the capital.
Not a reckless optimist, Mamata Banerjee is aware of the pitfalls ahead, but she also knows that this is her best moment – a political windfall one can say – to grab the limelight at the national stage, where the terrain conceals far more booby traps than her home state.