West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee has proved that she is not someone who can be just wished away by her opponents. In fact, she has started her preparations for next year's Assembly elections in full earnest and could possibly emerge as a major force to reckon with if she comes out victorious.
Two deft strokes within a week have endeared her to the people of the state, who constantly endeavour to assert their intellectual supremacy over the citizens of other states. By declassifying the files pertaining to one of India's greatest liberators, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Mamata has put pressure on the Central government to follow suit and bring out all documents regarding Bose in the public domain. Speculation is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may order the declassification after his meeting with members of the Bose family at his residence next month. Netaji is for the country in general and Bengalis in particular, amongst the most revered figures of our freedom struggle and Mamata's action is being seen as an attempt by her to clear the air about controversies surrounding his mysterious disappearance. This act of hers has endeared her to people throughout the nation.
Similarly, by backing Saurav Ganguly, the charismatic and boyish looking former Indian cricket captain for the presidentship of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), Mamata has again played a master card. Saurav has not only been a legendary sportsperson, but is perhaps the most highly regarded Bengal icon whose following cuts across ideologies and party lines. His elevation as the chief of the CAB would help the Chief Minister score brownie points over her many rivals, as Ganguly's innings as a cricket administrator may have just begun and he could end up heading the BCCI one day.
Mamata is not a leader by fluke, nor is she a leader due to dynastic reasons. She has come up the hard way and has brought her party to power in Bengal through sheer determination and grit. Having done her political apprenticeship in the Congress, where she was first noticed while being the Indian Youth Congress general secretary in the mid 1980s, Mamata has outwitted all her opponents including those in the Congress. Her greatest moment was when she dislodged the powerful Left from Bengal by ending their 34-year rule in 2011. For this, she was applauded the world over. Every American leader who visits India since that historic moment expresses his or her desire to meet this simple but influential leader of the state, who has the potential of making it to the national stage not too far in the future.
Mamata Banerjee may never have vocalised her wish to be the Prime Minister of the country. However, she could easily emerge as an alternative to the BJP in due course, given that the Congress is collapsing and losing ground every day. Mamata's biggest advantage is that she is acceptable to the Congress rank and file due to her past association with the grand old party. She is also amongst the former Congress leaders whose performance has been enhanced after breaking the umbilical cord with the mother party. Her humble background and her immense connectivity with the grassroots workers provide the requisite leadership prowess.
For those who have reposed enormous faith in the ideology of the Congress in the past, she is probably the sole leader who can be rallying point for Congress workers of all shades and hues from every state. It is evident that there is increasing belief in the Congress that its current leadership represented by both Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul cannot deliver on the electoral front. Therefore, a leader who has been part of the organisation and understands its strengths and importance needs to take over at some stage. This is where the search narrows down to Mamata Banerjee. Former Congress leaders, who have broken away from the Congress and subsequently formed their own parties, could as well accept her as their mascot in the larger political game.
Nationalist Congress Party boss Sharad Pawar may be the most experienced and wily politician from the Congress stable, but his time has virtually run out after his own state rejected his party in last year's Assembly elections soon after the rout in the Parliamentary elections. His primary interest is to ensure that his daughter Supriya Sule succeeds him. Jagan Mohan Reddy, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy's son, despite doing well in the Assembly elections in Andhra was not deemed fit to take over office. He, therefore, would have no problems in accepting Mamata. Similarly, G.K. Vasan and Jayanti Natarajan, who are a part of the Tamil Manila Congress would have little qualms either.
The Congress party could further break into multiple regional parties following the Bihar election results in November. Those who would lead the regional outfits would want to consolidate themselves first in their respective states, thus leaving the field open for her. Therefore, Mamata Banerjee could be just a step away from leading the grand alliance of present and former Congress leaders in challenging the might of the BJP if next year she returns to power. Between us.