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Clueless in Kolkata: The politics of Mamata Banerjee

opinionClueless in Kolkata: The politics of Mamata Banerjee

The Bengal CM announces ‘jihad’ against BJP. She has no clue on what ‘jihad’ is or if a sitting constitutional authority can use such sensitive words in a public meeting.

It is a curious thing, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who always sought it. Those who, like Mamata Banerjee, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they got it by force of circumstances. The supporters of the leader find to their utter horror that their leader fails to wear it well. The bigger problem is such leaders, like Ms Banerjee, even fail to realise how incongruous their position is in relation to the rest of the issues and what is more how clueless they are at every stage. Strangely, Calcutta—now Kolkata—once the second city of the British Empire, which was once the cynosure of progressive thinking in this part of the world, today is led by a leader thoroughly clueless.
Take the President election to begin with. She rushes in to the national capital, seeks media light and then ends up thoroughly embarrassed—though it seems Mamata Banerjee is oblivious of the term embarrassment. She called meeting of opposition parties where some came, some did not, but as a face saver the grand old man of Indian politics Sharad Pawar attended. She wanted to select the opposition’s unanimous candidate for 2022 President Poll. Her three choices—starting with Mr Pawar himself and then Farooq Abdullah and Gopal Gandhi—all regretted.
The same was her position in 2012 when Pranab Mukherjee was expected to be the choice of Congress and Mamata was in alliance with Congress at the Centre. Mamata proposed former President Kalam as her choice and literally dragged veteran Mulayam Singh Yadav to support her. Her efforts cemented the candidature of Pranab Babu, whom she did not want at all and in the end had to concede to cast vote in favour of the first Bengali as President. Clearly, neither embarrassment from a misadventure did touch Mamata nor did she care to learn a political lesson from it. That in the end the opposition of 2022, knowing fully well that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would spring such a surprise that it would not merit sacrificing any prominent politician in the altar of Presidential Poll, chose a politically exhausted Yashwant Sinha. Curiously, Mamata did not show any enthusiasm in even the choice of her own party’s vice president as opposition candidate.
The misadventure of the President election, perhaps, had its roots in Mamata’s belief that her party had the key to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The BJP-led NDA, it was estimated, stood short of approximately 20,000 votes. She thought all non-NDA parties, even some NDA allies, would accept her choice and vote in a President not chosen by PM Modi. Even if one nurtures such a feeling the moment veteran Sharad Pawar expressed his unwillingness any politically astute person would have sensed that BJP would choose somebody formidable. In Draupadi Murmu, that is what the party did. Clearly the opposition leaders led by Sharad Pawar had the clue. Therefore, even before BJP announced its choice, they chose a politically superannuated Yashwant Sinha as their candidate.
Making a mistake out of personal dislike is one thing, but rushing in ten years later and committing similar foolhardy show again is Mamata Banerjee’s forte. Her cluelessness did not stop at the meeting she called in the capital. When Shiv Sena rebels led by Eknath Shinde flew away from Mumbai and were busy toppling the Uddhav Thackrey government in Maharashtra, Mamata Banerjee concluded that this was BJP’s plan so as to ensure victory of Ms Murmu in the President poll. Her understanding of the national political scene, even after so many years of public life, is pitiable to say the least.
Impetuosity best describes Mamata Banerjee and her politics. She thrives on bravado. And in order to show off her greatness collects suitable henchmen around her. Most fall in line in order to retain their positions. Thus, she is cited as reincarnation of Ma Sharada, consort of Swami Paramhansha of the Ram Krishna order. Disturbed at such audacity the Secretary of the Rama Krishna math had to issue a video message against such frivolity. Will it chastise the veteran politician? Unlikely, since it is evident she loves such attention, though politically superfluous even counterproductive.
People coming from humble background seek recognition. Mamata Banerjee is no exception. But her appetite for receiving accolades seems to be inexhaustible. Not long ago she received from her own minister the inaugural award from the Bangla Academy for her relentless literary pursuit captured in her poetry collection, Kabita Bitan. Mamata Banerjee is not that naïve that she would not know the quality of her creative writing. Any sensible person would have avoided such award, which, as expected, invited ridicule. The award bestowed by her minions did not position Mamata Banerjee at a high pedestal, still by consenting to accept it she offered her detractors yet another opportunity to mock at her.
Take her relentless effort to position herself as the challenger to Narendra Modi in 2024. To meet that she attempted to spearhead the selection of the opposition candidate for the Presidential poll. She spent a huge amount for state election in Goa, a state far away and far removed from West Bengal style politics. She snatched side-lined politicians from Congress to showcase her might in certain states. Spent forces like Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha were inducted in the party. Several of such neo-converts to her political charm were awarded legislative posts. What Mamata fails to introspect is are these random steps going to help her win the position of Modi’s challenger in next two years! Or will she win any single vote outside West Bengal due to her Bangla academy award and claim to be as reincarnation of Sharada mother?
Instead, what matters to the rest of India are the several court cases in the Calcutta High Court where in every hearing past corruption cases and recruitment scandals are coming to light. In addition, corruption charges have reached her own close relatives, including the heir apparent and nephew, Abhishek Banerjee. Mamata needs to obtain a clean chit first before embarking on a national ambition. If she thinks that since a three-time Chief Minister from Gujarat came and won the national heart, another from West Bengal, too, can emerge as a challenger. Courts do not matter. Wasn’t Modi too embroiled in court cases? So is Mamata. Point missed is these are serious corruption charges, a large part of these have been prima facie proved, while in case of Narendra Modi the charges were at best political with hearsay evidence, also the top court of the country dismissed all cases after its own examination.
Clues are to be placed in context, examined in depth and then only a conclusion can be reached. There is no shortcut in collation of clues and in reaching a political course after due cogitation. This is what BJP does. Instead Mamata announces “jihad” against BJP from 21 July, an important day in her political life. She has no clue on what is “jihad” or if a sitting constitutional authority can use such sensitive words in a public meeting. Her utterances, political postures and steps illustrate the hopeless isolation of her type of politics in today’s India. And the fact that intelligentsia in West Bengal are not persuading her for a course correction, perhaps, indicates complete isolation of West Bengal from the national mainstream.

Author Sugato Hazra’s latest book is “Losing the Plot: The Political Isolation of Bengal”.

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