The magnificent and resounding victory of the Trinamool Congress in the recently concluded West Bengal elections has perhaps provided a perfect launch pad for Mamata Banerjee to play a stellar role in national politics. Speaking on NewsX shortly after the results were announced, Mamata Banerjee’s confidant and party MP, Derek O’Brien provided sufficient indication regarding her future plans when he stated “it takes only one and half hours to go by air from Kolkata to New Delhi”. O’Brien, who is also known as the most acclaimed quizmaster in the country, allowed the answer to slip away before the question had been posed.
Banerjee herself, addressing the media in the wake of her spectacular sweep, took a dig at the Congress leadership by declaring “they did not know who their friends were”. This significant remark was made while denouncing the Congress-CPI(M) electoral alliance in the state. She said that ideologically speaking, the two parties were diametrically opposite to each other. The observation was aimed at wooing Congress workers in West Bengal, who refused to work for the CPI(M) given the long and violent history involving the cadres of the two outfits. Simultaneously, Banerjee sent out a strong signal to Congressmen, past and present that so far as ideology goes, her party was the closest to that of the Congress, which seems to have lost its identity somewhere along the way. It was a subtle message for the unification of the Congress activists under her leadership ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has already spelt out his desire of being the prime challenger to Narendra Modi in the Parliamentary polls and has, therefore, been attempting to unite the non BJP parties after ensuring that erstwhile socialists accepted him as their leader for this enhanced role. However, Banerjee has similarly sent out feelers through her statements that Congressmen, past and present could bank on her to provide them the compass that shall show them the right direction. She has expressed her disappointment over Sonia Gandhi and Rahul’s lack of commitment, which has led to the decimation of the grand old party, while emphasising in a nuanced way that she could easily fill the void if politics in the Congress parivar was to be viewed beyond the dynasty.
Banerjee is not a leader by fluke and has come up the hard way to become the greatest mass leader from the Congress stable outside the family, which is fast losing its foothold and influence. Having done her political apprenticeship in the Congress, she emerged as a prominent activist during her stint as the Youth Congress general secretary in the mid 1980s. Over the years, she has outwitted her rivals both in the Congress and outside by her sheer grit and determination. Her crowning glory was when she ended 34 years of Left rule in West Bengal by snatching a magnificent victory in an intensely arduous election in the state in 2011. She has repeated this feat to become a major player at the Centre.
Mamata Banerjee has her differences with the Central government, but by stating that she would be supporting the GST Bill, she has extended an olive branch to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The shrewd politician realises that she would need the Centre’s back up for the development programmes in the state. At the same time, she has conveyed to the Congress high command that the Trinamool Congress would not be subservient to any opposition party in Parliament and therefore would lay out its own agenda.
Her biggest strength lies in the fact that even while there are differences with the Congress high command, Mamata Banerjee is acceptable to the Congress rank and file, which could see in her its future leader given her capacity to pull off electoral victories. Her humble background and immense connectivity with the grassroots workers gives her an added advantage. Her integrity and simplicity remain unquestioned and her detractors also concede that they are in possession of very little ammunition for mud-slinging even during the peak of a political campaign.
Mamata Banerjee, politically speaking, is in an envious position. She has no obligation to be a part of an electoral arrangement which includes the Congress and the CPI(M). In fact, the two parties were being seen as the nucleus of a secular front against the BJP and the NDA, with Nitish as its leader. The West Bengal victory has changed the political terrain and it is Mamata Banerjee who would be the key strategist in case of the formulation of such a front. She is amongst former Congress leaders who have broken the umbilical cord with the mother party and are in a position to navigate the direction of national politics. She would find support from others like Sharad Pawar, Jaganmohan Reddy, G.K. Vasan and many Congress rebels. The lady is poised to play the role of the queen or at least a kingmaker in national politics.