‘Mamata Is The Only Leader Who Can Challenge Modi’

Chintan Patel, a sports physiotherapist in Panaji, Goa, feels Trinamool Congress has taken a calculated risk to enter a small state like Goa before emerging on the national stage

Owing to the fact that Goa is the smallest state in the country (40 seats), its political landscape is a little different from that of the other states, especially from that of West Bengal (294 seats). Perhaps Mamata Banerjee decided to start her national political innings from here because it is good to start on a small scale. That according to me is a wise step: to take only as much as one can easily commit to and handle.

The physical and metaphorical distance between the voters and representatives in Goa isn’t that much unlike in larger states. The cook employed at my house is a Goan native and says that local representatives do pay their residential areas regular visits. The voters are aware too and take active interest in local politics. Politics isn’t just about making promises to the janta, but also executing them properly. Mamata Banerjee and her party candidates will have to build a very strong base in Goa, if they want to make inroads into national politics.

Goa, being a small state, is no stranger to personality politics. It is also no stranger to ideas of cosmopolitanism and being open to other cultures, given its thriving tourism industry. Mamata Banerjee will have to strike a fine balance and really try to understand the local lifestyle well. It is good that she visited the state last month for a few days.

The Goa Assembly elections are scheduled in February 2022. As a sports physiotherapist working with the Goa Cricket Association and Goa Football Association, I come in contact with many star players regularly. One of my friends, footballer Denzil Franco joined TMC recently.

Patel comes from a politically conscious family in Gujarat

Anyone who fulfils their promises or tries to show genuine intent to understand and solve local issues will win the voter’s minds and hearts. During the second wave of Covid in May, Goa wasn’t able to handle it well and in the post-pandemic world people are looking for leaders who can be strong and lead from the front in moments of crisis.

ALSO READ: ‘A Daughter Of Soil, Didi Is The Leader To Watch’

The voter nowadays is also more aware thanks to social media and understands that state issues aren’t independent from that of the centre. The central leadership does affect and influence state politics in certain cases, such as a pandemic.

I am a Gujarati who has been living in Panaji for nearly five years now and my family is based in Gujarat. A few of my close relatives are actively engaged in politics and I am aware that the wind can change direction any time on any issue in politics. It depends on the charisma of the leader at top apart from the hard work of the party cadre on ground level.

Modiji or let’s say the BJP has managed to somehow win over the attention of the janta, but Mamata Banerjee is also a formidable opponent. Perhaps she is the only one giving strong ‘opposition’ to Modiji. Despite Congress being the single largest party in 2017, they lost Goa, but Mamata held the fort strongly in West Bengal and came back for a successive third stint as Chief Minister this year. It would be interesting to see if TMC can build a strong base in Goa and go from being a strong regional player to a strong national player.

‘A Daughter Of Soil, Mamata Is The Leader To Watch’

Anil Bhutoria, 59, an industrialist based in Kolkata, says the Bengal CM’s ability to connect with people makes her transition as a national leader inevitable

It is interesting to see the Trinamool Congress (TMC) spreading its wings and seriously panning out from being a regional player to being a national player. Be it Tripura, Meghalaya, Punjab or Goa, Mamata Banerjee and her party seem to be confident of creating a solid base of voters in these states.

Even though it is too early to say whether she will emerge victorious or not, I am sure she will be able to definitely connect with the local people in these states and make some serious advance into the local politics. For example, Bengal and Goa both have large Christian populations and a shared love for football; who knows what factor might tilt votes.

Most probably she will be able to make the transition smoothly into a national figure, for she is a daughter of the soil. She might not be the most camera savvy or suave persons around, but she definitely has her heart in the right place. Plus, she is not new to national politics. She has been a Cabinet Minister at the Centre and definitely knows her way. Again, it might be too early to say anything concrete but she may prove to be a good fit at central leadership or the PM’s role.

Bhutoria says Banerjee leads from the front

As an industrialist who has operated business under both the Left Front and TMC in Bengal (I established the Stadel group in 2003), I would say things had started improving under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya itself. But Mamata Banerjee did make things better. Nobody had ever thought that the Left Front would go out from Bengal, but Ms Banerjee fought single-handedly and won. Who knows what the future holds as far as national politics is concerned?

ALSO READ: Mamata In A New Challenger Avatar

As far as I am concerned, I don’t follow any leader or party blindly and only go by the ground reality or statistics. And I must say that the statistics speak for themselves. Mamata Banerjee is a proactive leader. She is forever strategizing and figuring out newer ways to connect with people. And that according to me is the mark of a good leader, someone who has her ear on the ground. Be it the remote areas of rural Bengal or a metropolitan Kolkata, she makes sure to stay connected with the populace. She takes care that social schemes are set in motion and that people benefit from them. One of the things that personally make me the happiest is that Kolkata has begun to look much cleaner than before.

Also, while other states were just fighting the pandemic, West Bengal had to deal with the double blow of the pandemic and cyclone Amphan. And Bengal dealt with it well. Bengal was really well-prepared for cyclone Yaas in May 2021. A good leader should be able to multitask well.

All in all, I think the country is ready for someone who is unafraid to be herself and lead from the front. But Mamata Banerjee also has to take a more balanced approach in connecting with people across the length and breadth of the country.

Mamata In A New Challenger Avatar

Since May 2014, after its victory in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP as a party, and the BJP government in New Delhi, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, has been in ‘election mode’. Critics say it was this “obsession” for electoral victory that the government completely missed the deadly ‘second surge’ of the killer Covid-19 pandemic and failed to ramp up the healthcare infrastructure in time.

After a brief pause, the party leadership is once again switching to the ‘election mode’ with an eye on the coming Uttar Pradesh elections next year. For Modi and Shah, winning UP seems the last straw amidst a rapidly falling popularity graph.

However, the drubbing in West Bengal continues to rankle. Not only because ‘Didi’ has emerged as a ‘national icon’ after her incredible victory with Modi as her principal political opponent. But because she is tipped to be a possible leader of a secular opposition alliance in the next Lok Sabha elections.

Mamata Banerjee is not unaware of her new status. One can clearly witness that every political move of Didi since her victory on May 2, is designed to position herself as a ‘direct adversary’ to Modi, while attacking him routinely with an aggressive and creative consistency. This is bound to unnerve the ‘Dear Leader’ in New Delhi.

Take, for example, her statement after what seemed like the hounding of her chief secretary by the Centre on whimsical grounds: “There are so many Bengal cadre officers working for the Centre; if we confront like this, what will be the future of this country, Mr Prime Minister? Mr Busy Prime Minister, Mr Mann Ki Baat Prime Minister… what, do you want to finish me? Never, ever…. As long as people give me support, you cannot…” 

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The latest is the ‘big news’ of what seemed a predictable event – the return of prodigal son Mukul Roy, back into the Trinamool, which he founded with Mamata Banerjee in 1998 against the mighty CPM which ruled Bengal for more than 30 years. Undoubtedly, this was ‘breaking news’ not only in Bengal, but in the national scenario.

Mukul Roy was the second-in-command, responsible for organizational affairs in the Trinamool, appointed as Union Railway Minister at the behest of Mamata Banerjee, her point-man in Delhi’s power circles, even while he called the shots in Kolkata. All this changed after the Narada-Saradha scam, and the decline in his fortunes led him into the lap of the BJP – also perhaps because that was the only alleged ‘method’ to escape the Centre’s law enforcement agencies.

Mukul Roy was seemingly sidelined before the assembly polls in the BJP though he was the key strategist who lifted the BJP to 18 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, an unprecedented victory in Bengal for the Hindutva party.

Roy shared this ‘scam dilemma’, along with another high profile ‘turncoat’, Suvendu Adhikari, who switched over to the BJP before the 2021 polls, became a bitter enemy of his mentor, abusing her in the most communal and misogynistic language during the campaign, and is now reportedly a favourite with the Modi-Shah dispensation, adding to the angst and anger of the ‘original’ BJP workers and leaders like state party chief Dilip Ghosh.  

The inevitable return of Mukul Roy is therefore bad news for both Modi and Shah. In a party replete with discontent among its hardcore followers because it is filled to the brim with ‘turncoats’ — and several of them losing in the recent elections — his departure might trigger major defections back to Trinamool, including several MLAs. These defections are just a tip of the volcano – the BJP might be actually imploding in Bengal.

Indeed, with the BJP weakened in Bengal, and with Didi on the ascendant in terms of her ‘national stature’, it is believed by observers that all the signs are pointing to the beginning of the end of the Modi era, with a possible rainbow coalition of federal reassertion under a secular umbrella beginning to take shape in the national scenario. The latest is her move to send political strategist Prashant Kishore to meet Sharad Pawar, known for his tactical acumen; they had discussions for three hours.

Didi has called upon all opposition parties, including civil society organizations and NGOs to unite against Modi. Recently, in Kolkata, while yet again fully backing the farmers’ leaders who had come to meet her, she told journalists: “I have only one thing to say: Modi has to be removed from power.”

Besides, she told the farmers’ leaders that she will take the lead in organizing opposition leaders and chief ministers to hold a joint meeting in their support. Clearly, the importance she has been giving to the protracted movement and to specific leaders like Rakesh Tikait (the West Bengal assembly passed a resolution earlier in support of the farmers’ struggle), is evidence that she understands the political importance of the farmers as integral to future electoral dynamics, especially in the Hindi heartland, Haryana and Punjab.

Meanwhile, nursing the wounds of the massive defeat despite pumping in money and muscle, and the media hyperbole, the Modi-Shah regime started hounding Mamata Banerjee soon after May 2. First, there was this fake news campaign of organized violence against the BJP cadre and Hindus, with fake videos and Whatsapp campaigns trying to create a communal divide. She was blamed by central leaders, but the fact is that when the short-lived violence was triggered, the Election Commission was still in control, the central forces were still deputed in Bengal, and she had not been sworn in as the chief minister.

She took over, gave compensation to the victims across the political spectrum, and ordered a complete end to the violence. The violence stopped, even while Bengal celebrated the incredible victory of the secular forces against hate politics, with a deep, quiet and discreet dignity, mostly indoors.

Soon after, two of her senior ministers and two top leaders were arrested by the CBI, for being involved in the Narada scam. Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari, also accused in the same scam, were left untouched. This was followed by the hounding of her chief secretary by the Centre, post Cyclone Yaas, for what seemed like a whimsical revenge act. Even the Congress and the CPM in Bengal criticized this, and there were rumblings within the BJP that this is indeed a terrible move by the Centre.

All this has been reinterpreted in Bengal and the rest of India as a display of arrogance and power, even while the feisty and resilient ‘Didi’ emerged yet again as a mass leader, street-fighter and formidable adversary against Modi. The more they hounded her, the more she has become popular, emerging as a ‘national icon’ who decisively took on Modi – and defeated him in his own game.

Clearly, as of now, it’s a win-win scenario for Mamata Banerjee. In a country where the Constitution and its federal structures have been so deliberately weakened in contemporary India, her brave and steadfast reassertion from the East might mark the rise of a new dynamics in mainstream politics in the country.

Bengal Chief Minister

Can Didi Rise Above Bengal To Aim At PM?

While Mamata Banerjee has an impressive political CV that makes various opposition parties back her as the next prime minister, she tends to look at most issues through the prism of state politics

Whenever questions are asked about the Prime Ministerial candidate of the opposition parties which have come together to dethrone the Modi government in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is mentioned as a prime contender for the top post along with Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati.

Undoubtedly, 64-year-old Mamata Banerjee has an impressive CV. She has won seven Lok Sabha elections, has served as a Central minister and is now into her second term as chief minister of West Bengal. She began her electoral career with an impressive debut in the 1984 Lok Sabha election when she defeated CPM stalwart Somnath Chatterjee in the Left bastion Jadhavpur.

This spectacular victory marked the beginning of Mamata Banerjee’s long, political struggle. A firebrand politician and a dogged street fighter, she persisted with her battle over the years, leading a series of mass protests against the Leftists. Her persistence eventually paid off when she succeeded in dislodging the 34-year-old well-entrenched Left Front government in 2011. In fact, MamataBanerjee was so determined and focused on taking on the Communists that she even walked out of the Congress in 1998 and launched her own party – the Trinamool Congress – when she realized that the grand old party was not serious about overthrowing the Left Front government.

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Though  the responsibility of  heading a state government requires that  Mamata Banerjee shed her image as a street fighter, the Trinamool chief’s fighting days are far from over. She has returned to her old avatar as the Bengal tigress but this time, she is not battling the Leftists but a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party which is making an aggressive bid to expand its footprint in West Bengal.

Her open confrontation with the Modi government came to a head earlier this February when she sat on a dharna in Kolkata along with her ministers and party cadres to protest the Centre’s move to send a team of officials from the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the West Bengal police chief Rajeev Kumar in connection with an ongoing inquiry into a chit fund scam.

The BJP’s concerted effort to storm Mamata Banerjee’s citadel in West Bengal has also forced her to reach out to other opposition parties with the express purpose of putting up a united fight against the saffron party.  In trademark Mamata-style, the Trinamool chief got together a galaxy of opposition leaders on a common platform at a mega rally in Kolkata earlier in January. She also worked with other opposition leaders on a campaign against Modi’s decision to demonetize high-value currency notes in 2016. At the same time, Mamata Banerjee made friendly overtures to the Congress and expressed a willingness to work with arch-rival, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in her mission to defeat the BJP.

This has naturally fuelled speculation that Mamata Banerjee wants to play a larger role at the national level. At present, the Trinamool chief is focused on winning a maximum of 42 Parliamentary seats in the ongoing general election so that she is in a position to drive a hard bargain after the poll results, in case the opposition parties outnumber the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Her ambition to emerge as the face of the opposition front flows from her understanding that Congress president Rahul Gandhi will not be accepted as the anti-BJP coalition’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Given the feedback from the field, the regional parties believe they will have sufficient numbers to force the Congress to support them in forming a government so as to keep the BJP out.

Consequently, Mamata Banerjee’s election campaign has acquired a national flavor. While Trinamool Congress party’s hoardings and posters in West Bengal point out that this election is about forming a government of the people in Delhi, the word is out on the street if the voters play it right, a Bengali could have a could have a shot at  becoming the country’s Prime Minister.

Mamata Banerjee, it is pointed out, is politically canny, has a firm grip on her party, has the necessary administrative experience both at the Centre and in the state and above all, she is personally incorruptible. As chief minister, the Trinamool Congress chief has been a hands-on administrator, keeping the bureaucracy on a tight leash and held per officers accountable for the implementation of government programmes.  She has relied heavily on populist and welfare schemes  to remain on top of her game and has proved to be more “Left than the Leftists” as far as policies go. Like her political rivals, she has ruthlessly used the government machinery to decimate her opponents and expand the Trinamool Congress, obliterating the line between the state and the party.

Mamata Banerjee can push her case for the Prime Minister’s job on the basis of  her numerical strength, experience and seniority but she is also known to be mercurial and unpredictable which could prove problematic if is she is given the responsibility of running the country. It is not clear how she will deal with coalition partners who come with their own set of demands and agendas.

The Trinamool Congress chief as Prime Minister can be expected to go ahead with pro-poor programmes like rural employment guarantee scheme and right to food but her commitment to economic reforms are not clear. On one hand, she has been wooing the private sector invest in West Bengal but, on another hand, it was her relentless campaign which forced the Tatas to abandon their plans to set up the Nano car manufacturing unit in the state. Though it is accepted in Delhi that economic reforms are now irreversible, it must be remembered that Mamata Banerjee had pulled out of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in protest against the Centre’s policy to allow foreign direct investment in the retail sector.

But above all, Mamata Banerjee, like all regional parties, tends to look at issues through the prism of their state politics. Since their presence is confined to a state, regional leaders tend to lack a national perspective. Mamata Banerjee is no exception when it comes to giving precedence to regional concerns over national interest. The West Bengal chief minister had embarrassed former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when she refused to accompany him to Bangladesh and derailed the signing of a landmark treaty on the sharing of Teesta river waters by the two countries on the ground that West Bengal’s interests had not been adequately protected. It may be unfair to pronounce judgment on Mamata Banerjee’s conduct as Narendra Modi’s successor but the possibility of a regional leader at the helm brings back memories of Janata Dal (S) leader H.D.Deve Gowda’s short tenure as Prime Minister in 1996 when he was derisively described as the “PM of Karnataka.”