After the goof-up, where does Mamata Banerjee go?

Written by: Shubham Ghosh
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A marginalised Mamata Banerjee decides to resort to 'manush' (people) to find a face-saver after the blunder she committed in New Delhi on the presidential candidate issue on Friday. She made her debut on a popular social networking site [Official FB page] where she gave a 'clarion call to millions of Indians' to back APJ Abdul Kalam to become the next President of the country.

Mamata Banerjee

Mamata Banerjee said she and her party act on the basis of truth and principles and no matter what happens, she would stick to Kalam as her choice of presidential candidate. Ironically, she even befriended the same social network site which was once used by a professor to promote an innocuous cartoon 'defaming' her and landed in trouble.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief might be trying to save grace by executing the idea of campaigning on the social networking site, but for serious followers of politics, this is again one of those badly thought-out strategies. She might be saying 'The game is not over' but that is nothing but a desperate attempt to keep herself afloat in an ever-changing political scenario. The game is basically over for the mercurial leader, as of now.

Goof-up in Delhi

Mamata Banerjee was given a great opportunity by the Congress chief, Sonia Gandhi, by inviting her to the capital to discuss names of probable presidential candidates the latter had thought of. The TMC leader believed it would be another chance to bang the senior ally, as she had been doing for some time now. In each of the cases ranging from the railway budget fiasco, the NCTC, FDI in retail, Pension Bill in the Centre to opposing the Congress in various local issues in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee had been at the dictating end and this time as well, she would call the shots in the capital.

Failed to read the pitch

But she made a horrible miscalculation this time by taking Pranab Mukherjee's candidature too casually. She did not have an idea how much popular is the seasoned Pranab in the nation's political circles. Mamata might be the unquestioned queen of Bengal politics at this moment but national politics is a different ball-game altogether. She should have been more realistic and not let allow personality clashes and differences over financial package for Bengal to determine her choice for Pranab or not. She might have noticed that political arch-rivals like Mulayam and Mayawati have pledged support to Pranab's candidature while the NDA too is likely to back him despite him being a Congressman.

The TMC is unfortunate for it never succeeds in having a second-thought and in most cases act according to its leader's haste. Had Mamata Banerjee led a democratic party with politically mature advisors, things could have been different. But she is only followed by a baggage of sycophants, who are of little use. The party even looked totally out of an inner coordination. While Mamata, as a politician of ideals, said in New Delhi that the factor of financial package was not determining her support to the Congress's candidate, some of her party men were found asking "Why should we support Pranab if he does not give us financial aid?"

Stumped by Mulayam

Mamata made life unnecessarily difficult by running into the Samajwadi Party fold. In a joint conference with Mulayam Singh Yadav, she floated three more names as presidential candidate, none of which was in common with those uttered by Sonia. It seems Mamata had done a little homework before taking the names, including the one of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Suddenly, prospects of a Mamata-Mulayam alliance to challenge the Congress emerged even though it was absolutely unnecessary for Mamata to make the presidential election a platform to play politics perhaps aimed at the 2014 elections. That too, she banked on Mulayam Singh Yadav, a person known for his flip-flops and also had communications with Kiranmay Nanda, an SP minister who had served in the Left Front government for a long time. It was a poor ploy, indeed. Mulayam, for his own compulsions, has a greater stake to remain close to the Congress than Trinamool and hence, dumped the latter without a second thought. Doing this, he also ensured that the Congress in a way gets dependent on him more for the remaining two years of the UPA government, for Trinamool would now be a distant partner and might end up outside the alliance before the next general polls.

Great mass leader but poor strategist

Mamata Benerjee is known for her hasty decisions, which often prove costly for her own party. In 2001, just before the Assembly elections, she had walked out of the NDA on moral grounds and her party was virtually wiped out in the polls. In 2004 Lok Sabha elections and 2006 Assembly elections too, Mamata had a horrible electoral experience. In 2009, Mamata joined the UPA and in 2011, the combination dethroned the Communists from power in Bengal after 34 long year. Mamata has been perhaps the only credible anti-Communist symbol in the state in last few decades and that in a great way was responsible for her victory against a declining Left. But as a manager of alliance, she is yet to cover a long distance and the continuing spat between her party and the Congress in the state exemplifies that. Mamata must have known that she can not do away with the Centre whimsically and needs the latter's backing to bail out her state from its financial woes.

Now what for Mamata?

Mamata Benerjee's adventurous political ploys have taken a big blow and for her own faults, her state could have to pay the prices.

One, this would reduce Mamata's bargaining power vis-a-vis the Centre. She, in a way, has helped Congress to strengthen the UPA bonding at her own expense. Even the TMC could lose the railway ministry, something which she has treasured all along. The DMK, another UPA ally, has already sought the ministry against supporting the Congress's presidential candidate.

Two, the chief minister of Bengal would find it difficult now to bag financial favours from the Centre by putting herself in a tricky situation. By supporting Pranab instead, she could have increased chances of the Centre granting a good financial package. She lost a bigger game to win a pettier one.

Third, the state Congress have got a reason to smile after a long time. It had been taking blows from Mamata, who has a huge mandate, on several issues and now with a Bengali Congressman poised to take over the President's office, a revamped state Congress would create all sorts of problems for the Mamata administration. Anti-Mamata leaders like Adhir Chowdhury, Deepa Das Munshi or the Ghani Khans who rule various pockets of the state would use up the occasion to launch scathing attacks on Mamata. The state Congress leadership has already threatened to pull out from the government. It would not lead to the fall of the government but would kick off war on many fronts for Mamata. The Left just need to sit and watch.

Fourth, Mamata's public image would undoubtedly take a blow among the middle-class Bengali. The fact that she, despite a Bengali, opposed another Bengali from climbing up to the peak, would not be welcomed by many. Moreover, if Mamata finally ends up with the NDA in the future as a consequence of her immature acts, the minority base would take a beating. No matter whether she pays stipends to imams or set up several institutes in the name of Muslim heroes, joining hands with the 'communal' BJP would put her political future at stake. On the contrary, this might give a golden opportunity to the Left to undo its blunder of 2008 and try to minimise distance with the UPA.

2014 is till some time away. But for leaders like Mamata, even a lifetime could fall short to learn from mistakes.

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