For all the effort the usual suspects not in mainstream politics, the latest being self-proclaimed atheist yet Islamist lyricist Javed Akhtar, put in, the bid of Mamata Banerjee to lead the opposition at a pan-Indian level will come to a nought. Even at the imaginary or hypothetical nadir of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, the West Bengal chief minister is no match for his charisma, whatever be the shortcomings in the premier otherwise. The greater problem with the firebrand leader from Bengal is herself. Beginning her political career as Congress’s Bengal student union Chhatra Parishad, after sticking posters on buses as a child with her father, she hogged the limelight first on being a victim of CPM’s violence. Arguably the mouthpiece of the INC back then, Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika, the most circulated regional language newspaper of the 1980s, had shot her to fame with illustrated news on a vicious physical attack on her. Later, when cameramen of an otherwise stolid Bangla channel of Doordarshan sprung into action, they captured yet another attack on her. As far as media coverage is concerned, Mamata Banerjee never looked back thereafter. Being the genuine anti-CPM — not anti-communist — face of the undivided Congress of that period, while she became the poster girl of every citizen of Bengal that wanted the Left Front out, her votaries themselves doubted whether she could capture the imagination of the entire state. For, a suave Jyoti Basu had a far greater appeal among the Bengali masses, still among the most refined in the country, than the raw, rustic Mamata Banerjee, exuding such raucous energy that was unpalatable to most (but may not be now). If not Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had replaced Basu and urged the communist cadre to take an ideological U-turn, leading to a rebellion of sorts within the rank and file of his party, and Singur and Nandigram had not happened, today’s chief minister would have had to contend with being an all-noise-and-no-substance show.
While her journey narrated in brief above appears a distant memory now, Mamata Banerjee has hardly shunned cacophonous politics. If she had lied about her degrees in the yesteryears while contesting against CPM’s Malini Bhattacharya, today she pretends to have fractured her leg in an attack from the figment of her imagination. If she could do a sit-in before the doorstep of then Chief Minister Basu’s office at the Writers’ Building, today she sits in a demonstration when the CBI attempts to interrogate her favoured police officer. Worse, if she could parade a victim of rape on the stage to garner votes and embarrass the then ruling coalition, now when a worker or workers of the Trinamool Congress rape a woman, she calls the victim a prostitute. The worst of all, she threatens to sever Bengal from the rest of India with her shameless Muslim appeasement, which she used to accuse the communists of as the opposition leader, only to stage a drama of humouring Hindus too for a few weeks at the hustings. A combination of hooligans to instil fear psychosis in villagers, a posse of men and women with the gift of the gab in television studios and a guaranteed Muslim vote make the formula to grab power in Bengal. These are lessons she has learnt well from her predecessors, albeit implementing them in the crudest manner possible. This can keep her in office only in a state that Bengali Hindus are fleeing without adequate replenishment by Hindi-speaking Hindu migrants. Such actions, the news of which she can censor only when media houses are based in Bengal, have created a diabolical image of hers across the country, making her an impossible prime ministerial candidate.
Then there are regional bigwigs, few among whom will accept Mamata Banerjee’s command. From Sharad Pawar in the west to Lalu Yadav in the east, from Akhilesh Yadav in the north to MK Stalin in the south, each character has too high an ambition to be sacrificed for the sake of opposition unity. And then, none wants to be bossed around, an inevitability with Banerjee at the helm. Besides, there is no report of a waning of Modi’s appeal, adding to negative votes against the BJP-led NDA. People’s frustration at the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic translates partly to anger vented on the creator of coronavirus, China. The remaining pent-up emotions get distributed among the equally bumbling state governments that cannot ensure last-mile deliveries of essential medicines or oxygen. With the scary Delta Plus mutant of the virus gradually giving way to the comparatively benign Kappa, India’s tally of active cases, fatality and recoveries will all improve, and with that will rise again Modi’s acceptability ratings. If Mamata Banerjee contemplates forging together a post-poll alliance, fighting separately would render every opposition chief minister and party head a dwarf before the towering prime minister. Finally, all these seven years, the rivals of the BJP have been bereft of fresh ideas to offer an alternative. They sing in chorus along with the news cycle, which leads to the voter’s inability to credit any one of them for standing out. Bollywood may be a cultural enemy of the nation that subtly induces stereotypes detrimental to the national interest in the subconscious of viewers. Endorsements (or disapprovals) of politicians by the film industry’s characters — like a concupiscent Swara Bhasker or a disingenuous Javed Akhtar — are a result of the impulsive excitement they suffer from in the absence of a deeper intellect politics demands. You need better brand ambassadors, Ms Banerjee, and even then, tough luck!