Mamata Banerjee versus PM Modi in Varanasi is the buzz. Is it for real?
- For now, the Mamata vs Modi face-off in Varanasi is just a social media virtual thought and not an on-ground reality.
West Bengal 2021 is as thrilling as it gets as far as elections in India go… There are big stars, action, drama and emotions thrown into this political pot-boiler that has all of us on the edge of our seats every minute.
In the latest, speculation is flying thick and fast that Mamata may well contest against PM Modi from Varanasi in 2024.
The buzz ties up beautifully with perceptions of Mamata Banerjee’s national ambitions. There is no doubt that if Mamata Banerjee wins this high octane election - and if she wins comfortably - she could emerge as the most powerful leader in the Opposition camp that has mostly been rudderless over the last several years.
For now, the Mamata vs Modi face-off in Varanasi is just a social media virtual thought and not an on-ground reality. But what if….
HOW THE VARANASI CHATTER BEGAN
A seemingly humble, retaliatory Twitter post by the Trinamool Congress on Thursday night set the cat among the pigeons. The post, which was uploaded late Thursday night from Trinamool’s official handle, was a comeback to PM Modi’s claim at a rally in Bengal that there were rumours that Mamata Banerjee may contest from another seat in the last phase.
“Is there any truth in the rumour that you (Mamata) are going to file your nomination from another constituency? First, you went to Nandigram and people gave you an answer. Go somewhere else and the people of Bengal will give you the right answer," PM Modi said on Thursday while campaigning in South 24 Paraganas.
The TMC delivered its counter on Twitter: “Didi is winning Nandigram. The question of her fighting from another seat doesn't arise.” The tweet also cautioned PM Modi to “look for a safer seat in 2024, as you (Modi) will be challenged in Varanasi.”
The cryptic reference to Varanasi came not just from Trinamool’s official Twitter handle but also echoed by another firebrand TMC MP Mahua Moitra. In a tweet, she categorically asked the PM to don his “armour” as Mamata Banerjee will run from Varanasi in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Varanasi has been PM Modi's constituency since 2014 when he first came to power at the Centre following the BJP's landslide victory in the national elections.
MAMATA’S NATIONAL AMBITIONS
Now just five days ago – and smack in the middle of a do-or-die assembly election - the Bengal chief minister wrote a letter to at least a dozen opposition leaders – Sonia Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, MK Stalin, Akhilesh Yadav, Uddhav Thackeray, Hemant Soren, Arvind Kejriwal - calling for a united and effective struggle against the BJP.
In the letter, she made a clarion call to all opposition parties to come together and offer a credible alternative to what she dubbed was BJP’s “one-party authoritarian rule” in India. The Trinamool supremo had suggested that a meeting of all leaders be held to chart out a plan of action after these assembly elections.
Several opposition leaders have accused the BJP of aspiring to rule all the states. No doubt that a democracy is defined not only by the government, but also by the dynamism of its Opposition. And by all accounts, India’s opposition has never been as weak as it is today. So if India seems to be veering towards a one-party rule, many analysts have argued the opposition is also to be blamed.
Mamata Banerjee’s letter is seen as significant in this context. Several political analysts in Bengal and outside have interpreted the letter to signal that Mamata Banerjee wants to focus on national politics once the assembly polls are over.
And if Mamata wins Bengal in 2021 – many opinion polls did make this prediction before the election process was formally kickstarted – she might just acquire the necessary heft among opposition parties to become the face of the anti-BJP front that she has outlined in her letter.
Mamata Banerjee did play a key role in trying to forge an anti-BJP coalition of parties ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections too. She had organised a massive rally in Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground in January 2019 attended by almost all leaders of regional parties opposed to the BJP.
But that initiative fell flat owing to differences between various parties over seat-sharing.
THE 2024 POLL BUGLE
West Bengal 2021, and the chatter about Mamata contesting against Prime Minister Modi from Varanasi, has certainly blown the poll bugle for 2024.
When Arvind Kejriwal picked up the cudgels in Varanasi in 2014, many dubbed it the proverbial David vs Goliath battle. PM Modi had won Varanasi by a massive margin of 3.37 lakh votes.
If Mamata Banerjee goes up against the PM in 2024 – the ‘Khela’ in Varanasi will be worth a seat in the front row with popcorn to match.