There are two ways of interpreting Mamata Banerjee’s Delhi visit. Politically, it is a successful move, which positioned the feisty chief minister of West Bengal as a potential leader of the opposition in 2024 national election. The other view, of course, is that it is yet another failed show that only Banerjee could publicise as a great success. Depending on which side of the spectrum one sits, opinions exchange of bitter abuses to be more precise will vary. Judged by the mainstream media, her visit was strong enough to sway the strongman, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The only missing link in her visit to the national capital was a time slot with Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of state, and a discussion with him on human rights and political freedom as practised in West Bengal.
The important question is how closer has Banerjee come to her ambition to move her residence to the 7 Lok Kalyan Marg in May 2024 after this highly publicised visit. Two honourable members of the Lok Sabha had claimed that anointing her remained just a formality now. The rest of India will eagerly wait for an equitable distribution of poverty as West Bengal has successfully practised since 1977.
There are some minor hiccups in between, which she needs to address before switching over to Delhi. First, she needs to get elected in the state assembly to continue as the state’s chief minister. This requires a by-election by October in the next three months, as she failed to win any seat in the recently concluded assembly poll, which would have qualified her to be the state’s chief minister. For the Election Commission, this might not be a priority now, given the Covid-19 situation in the country.
Second, no less important, is the case in the Calcutta High Court on post-election violence in the state under her watch. The report of the National Human Rights Commission seems to be not very encouraging for ace INC politicians-cum-lawyers Abhishek Singhvi and Kapil Sibal to defend.
Third, which is critical for winning over public intellectuals, is re-railing the administration and economy of West Bengal. Given the current attitude of her party members as well as rent-seeking members of the West Bengal administration, this is easier said than done. Take the case of AITC’s Rajya Sabha member Santanu Sen. How he snatched the Pegasus-related papers from the minister concerned in the house and threw them at the chair, managing a suspension from the rest of the session. Brand Mamata may not find many takers nationally.
The other point that will haunt Banerjee is her constant flouting of judicial norms. She was recently fined by the high court for disrespecting a judge. Her party members are said to be behind the posters in the high court premises that carried content disparaging acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal. Her government is at the receiving end for its recalcitrance at the court. In short, the civil society (something that is effectively non-existent in West Bengal) in India might not feel much attracted to Mamata Banerjee’s brand of politics. Howsoever much the Kolkata-based media concocts stories, composes poems and songs in her support, Banerjee is unlikely to overcome the disgust people feel at her style of governance.
The critical-most issue that will work against Banerjee’s aspiration is her utter failure in grasping the basic rules of economy. She not only drove the Tatas out of the state but also worked against any future development there. What is more, the extortion economy that is the rule in West Bengal will not find acceptance in the rest of the country. Banerjee needs an image makeover, which will require on-ground performance, something the feisty leader seems to be nonchalant about.
The toughest hurdle that Banerjee must cross is the competition of similar political outfits present in other states. In Bihar, the Yadav family-run RJD, Akhilesh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh, YS Jaganmohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh, MK Stalin of Tamil Nadu or Rahul Gandhi of the INC have no reason to support her ambition for Lok Kalyan Marg. More so with a formidable Narendra Modi backed by his governance record and oratory, who will make mincemeat out of an opposition with Banerjee as their leader. She qualifies at best as a comedy-night guest with no content and no skill in weaving the magic touch required for the Hindi heartland. The baggage she carries will drown her in a national contest. If she feels that the minority votes will be with her, she is living in her dreams. People look for leaders who can contribute to their livelihood, not those who disrupt it. The point one must remember is that, for everyone, livelihood comes first, religion second. The ease of conversion racket in many states proves the success of the carrot of faith dangled before those looking for entitlements. Banerjee’s freebies cannot work in states where people are engaged in productive occupations.
But such issues are for future to tell. The immediate issue for Banerjee and her cheerleaders is how successful her visit to the capital is. Did she manage a closed-door strategy meeting with important opposition leaders like Sharad Pawer, Sonia Gandhi, with members from TRS, YSRC, DMK, RJD, MIM, Shiv Sena, etc thrown in? Did she, as her party’s parliamentary party leader, meet the vice president to argue the case of her suspended MP Santanu Sen? Was there any ‘meet the press’ programme where Banerjee responded to all possible queries? Or did she come back muttering “veni, vidi “ and suppressing the “vici” for now?