Mamata Banerjee's protest rally held in New Delhi against the UPA government at the Centre on Monday was not just another gimmick. This is a well-thought-out plan by the Trinamool Congress leader, which she and her party believe, will pay in the long run.
Under the guise of anti-FDI protest, the Trinamool chief basically made the first move to develop an alternative front to the Congress and BJP in national politics. The move is significant at this moment for just a few weeks ago, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav tried to forge a Third Front by getting on his side representatives from the TDP and Left Front. He even praised Mamata Banerjee during his visit to Kolkata to attend a felicitation programme.
Today's situation similar to post-Aurangzeb Mughal days
The situation today reminds one about the Mughal rule after Emperor Aurangzeb's death. Whenever a big system collapses, we have seen how smaller and diverse elements fill up the vacuum. We saw it after the Mughal collapsed or after the Congress system declined.
BJP could not replace Congress
But the Congress could not be instantly replaced by another equivalent party even though a new right-wing force gained momentum in the 1980s and 1990s. The BJP did not really succeed to undo the Congress's legacy, one of its prime reasons being its non-secular credentials and today, when that factor is coupled with lack of leadership, chances of the party returning to power again at the Centre are very low. The Congress came back to power from nowhere in 2004, after a long gap of eight years, only because the BJP failed to cater to the people's aspirations. Ram Mandir agitation was history in this country by 2004.
Congress returned for the Third Front never took off
The Congress again found a chance to carry on for a decade for the country had no alternative. A UPA versus NDA model gained prominence with the smaller parties clinging on to either of the two blocks. It is not that Third Front was not tried in all these years but it wasn't a viable alternative given the fact that the smaller parties could not assert themselves adequately and ultimately had to fall back on either the Congress or the BJP, with a greater preference to the former owing to its centrist ideology.
But coalition parties did not remain small, thanks to the faceless UPA
But the smaller parties did not remain small, at least in their capacity to bargain with the bigger ally, and a big reason for this has been the faceless leadership of the UPA government. The lack of an active leadership by the Prime Minister heading the coalition meant that even the Congress was a senior ally quantitatively, it was on the decline in terms of quality.
The Congress government went on ruling the country but was clearly detached with the grassroot sentiments and this gave populist leaders like Mamata, Mulayam and Jayalalithaa a chance to assert their respective rights vis-a-vis the weakened Centre. They know they have the necessary mandate at their respective states and will happily oppose the central government on any given issue, irrespective of gains or losses.
Mulayam will do whatever it takes to woo Muslims, Jayalalithaa will not hesitate to corner the Centre in a bid to back Tamil sentiments while Mamata will only woo her electorate comprising moderate sections (Ma-Mati-Manush) and minorities. In the process of wooing the respective electorates, the regional satraps began to define the Indian federal structure in a new light. They have indeed begun to pressurise the Centre on several issues of national and international importance.
A gang-up game underway?
Mamata Banerjee has expressed eagerness to forge an alliance with other eastern CMs like Nitish Kumar and Navin Patnaik. Jayalalithaa shares a good relation with Patnaik while Mulayam will appreciate if Mamata agrees to back his effort of forming the grand alliance. Yes, the presence of Left is a concern but the way Mamata has bulldozed it in the last few years, there is little doubt that she will dump them into the dustbin of history yet again.
Third Front more as a political alternative than electoral reality
The Third Front is physically still a vague idea but the driving force behind it is clearly gaining some strength. Mamata's rally in Delhi and her announcing plans that the TMC will hold dharnas in Delhi in November and rallies in Lucknow, Patna and Haryana opposing the reform proposals gives a clear message: "I am here to fill the vacuum created by anti-people policies and whoever wants to join our side, they are welcome." A master-stroke considering the strong anti-incumbency mood prevalent in the country against the Congress-led Centre. The speech in Hindi was suitable to appeal to the people of the Hindi heartland.
Mamata Banerjee is a more suitable candidate for the Third Front for unlike the Left, her brand of minoritarian politics suits forces like the SP, which has to play a major role if the Front has to succeed. Manmohan Singh's timing of deciding on the economic reforms has gone so awry that instead of actually boosting the nation's economy, it has given a shot in the arms of the opposition and the ally-turned-opposition.
Mamata achieves two aims
Mamata Banerjee has deserted the sinking ship of the government and rushed to join the ranks of the opposition to hit two targets. First, this elevated her status among her electorate and second, she conveniently hijacked the Left's weapon and after Monday's rally, it can be said that she has basically reduced her arch-rivals into an irrelevant lot. If the Left and Congress try to hold counter-rallies at Jantar Mantar tomorrow to establish their respective viewpoints, they will only be considered Mamata's imitators.
After Mulayam and Mayawati, Mamata is the latest 'messiah of the poor and downtrodden' in Indian politics. She has already proved it in West Bengal, where irrespective of the charge that she has done little to ensure an economic turnaround for the state, she still enjoys a huge support. And now, she can expect to widen her base in other parts of the country.
Mamata's 'accommodative' identity politics has better chance to work
During her long struggle against the Left Front, Mamata Banerjee has mastered the art of promoting identity politics, though her brand is different from what people like Raj Thackeray preaches. Any sort of identity politics is bitter, but Mamata has sugar-coated her style with a degree of accommodation. She doesn't only speak about Bengal but about the entire country, extending from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. A master-stroke again, this time against other lesser parties which aspire to emerge into a powerful Third Front but actually struggle to go about it.