The Delhi CM questions Mamata’s place in pan-India politics; Mamata’s ambition cleavages opposition; her bid to isolate Congress is stumped by Shiv Sena.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which rules the National Capital Territory of Delhi and Shiv Sena, which heads the ruling coalition in Mumbai, have separately thrown spanners in the works of Kolkata’s Trinamool chieftain, Mamata Banerjee. Arvind Kejriwal had earlier pooh-poohed Trinamool’s acquisition of BJP, Congress, NCP and JD(U) renegades like Yashwant Sinha, Kirti Azad, Pavan Verma, etcetera, by saying that he also had similar offers but was not interested in “kachda” of other parties. Addressing the media in Goa, where AAP had polled 6% votes in 2017 and is again making a foray, Kejriwal refused to comment on the prospects of Trinamool by saying that Mamata’s party cannot get even 1% of the vote in Goa: “There are 1,350 political parties in the country, should I mention everyone?” This statement came a day after Trinamool had swept the Kolkata municipal polls and Mamata’s bête noire, Congress’ Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, in a tweet coined a new verb, “Didicracy” to underscore the poll violence which accompanied the election.
The past month saw sharp chasms develop in the Opposition. It is now clearly divided into two camps. Mamata Banerjee leads a soliloquy: she envisages unity of anti-BJP forces without assigning any role to the principal national opposition party—Congress. Others, while respecting Mamata as the victor of West Bengal who humbled BJP, do not share her preference for a “Congress-mukt” scenario. Shiv Sena, Congress’ Maharashtra MVA ally, has openly come out with all guns blazing to advocate the efficacy of Congress after Mamata, during her visit to Mumbai, questioned the very existence of UPA, which is led by Congress since 2004 (and of which Mamata’s TMC was a partner in 2009-11, with Mamata as Railway Minister. Pawar’s NCP was then, and continues to be, with UPA). After she met Sharad Pawar in Mumbai she was asked if Pawar could be the new leader of UPA. “Where is UPA?” she retorted in Pawar’s presence and went on to chide Rahul Gandhi for his long absences from India (when even Congresspersons do not know his whereabouts). At one go Mamata derided Congress and put paid the talk of projecting Pawar as the face against Narendra Modi. The Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, edited by Sanjay Raut (a Pawar acolyte in the Sena) very next day flagged the importance of Congress in an anti-Modi communion. Raut followed it up with a visit to New Delhi where he met Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra and discussed a possible coalition between Sena and Congress in Goa, where TMC is busy stitching up a non-Congress front against BJP for 2022. There is apparently a unity and struggle situation between TMC and NCP. Mamata reveres Pawar and he in turn adores her ability as a former Congressperson to face BJP. TMC in its last working committee meeting pondered a national presence and even scheduled its next meeting in New Delhi where the name of the party may be changed to reflect its new persona. NCP also held its working committee a few days later where it projected Pawar as “PM material”. Mamata followed this up by visiting Goa and weaning away the sole NCP MLA, Churchill Alemao into TMC. Thus a ping-pong game is on between NCP and TMC, both renegades of Congress, vying for the spoils of the falling apart of the Grand Old Party. TMC is projecting Mamata as the nationwide face for 2024. A biopic on her is being produced. IPAC pollster Prashant Kishor and expelled JD(U) leader, retired diplomat and author, Pavan Verma are working on the pan-India Mamata blueprint.
Mamata has announced a grant of Rs 5,000 per woman in every family in Goa if Trinamool wins. This “Griha Laxmi” scheme is at variance with the Rs 500 her government offers women in Bengal under its “Duare Sarkar: Lokkhir Bhandar” scheme. (Does she consider Bengal’s women less endowed?) Congress stalwart P. Chidambaram, former Union Finance Minister, has questioned the rationale behind Mamata’s Goa announcement, saying that Goa, which has outstandings at Rs 23,473 crore, can ill afford this annual payout, which needs a total outlay of over Rs 21,000 crore.
In West Bengal, Mamata has claimed credit for UNESCO granting “Intangible Cultural Heritage” tag to Durga Puja. In 2019, Sangeet Natak Academy, which functions under Union Ministry of Culture, has approached UNESCO for this—Home Minister Amit Shah had tweeted this in April that year. Beset by recent setbacks in Kolkata, where it finished third behind CPM in civic polls, BJP has not laid claim to the Durga Puja credit and Trinamool has perhaps usurped the honour.
After defeating BJP in its home turf, Trinamool plans to expand pan-India. AAP has been making these forays past five years—it failed in Punjab in 2017 and is again in the fray in both Punjab and in Goa. While regional parties from other states debut in Goa, it is forgotten that after independence from Portuguese rule, the ruling party was Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), which ruled between 1963 and 1979 when defections affected its ranks. Defections have become part of Goa’s political culture since. MGP is a side player now. While Trinamool and AAP are vying for pan-India space and dominance of opposition politics, the showing of Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in the 2022 polls may see the emergence of a third force in Opposition.
All this tends to leave Congress out of the discourse: problem stems from the fact that despite having polled 20% in 2019 and being the largest and only pan-India Opposition party, it does not “own” a state, unlike the home turfs of prominent regional parties. Rahul Gandhi’s dalliance is Congress’ Achilles Heel. All young Opposition stalwarts—Supriya Sule, Akhilesh Yadav, Jayant Chaudhury, Tejaswi Yadav, Hemant Soren, Uddhav Thackeray, M.K. Stalin, Jaganmohan Reddy—seem to share a common bandwidth of not revering Rahul Gandhi. (They oppose Narendra Modi; loathe Rahul.) Priyanka Vadra has been denied a niche in Congress—she is one of the many general secretaries tasked only with UP. Thus she is not part of the discourse yet: Her “ladki hoon, ladti hoon” stance and “pink” manifesto for UP polls are yet to face the litmus test of peoples’ mandate.