After Gandhi vs Bose, it's yet another Gujarati vs Bengali in politics
In 2014, history is looking to repeat itself. This time, the two challengers are West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and BJP president Amit Shah, who decided to target the former in the most unsparing manner during his visit to Kolkata, thanks to the snowballing of the Saradha chit fund scam.
However, unlike the Mahatma-Gandhi clash which took place in the same party and was a conflict of two different personalities, the escalating tension between Mamata Banerjee and the BJP is more of a prestige war, more for the former for she is the last roadblock for the BJP to make inroads into a state where it has a lot to gain.
Prestige battle, more for Mamata Banerjee
It is also a prestige battle for the Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo because of the Saradha scam which has put her biggest socio-political asset, her honest image at a huge risk. Banerjee is well aware of the fact that honesty alone doesn't protect one's credibility in today's politics as has been the case with Manmohan Singh and would do her best not to become another Singh who perished without a fight. The BJP, on the other hand, is just looking to capitalise on this point to decimate Banerjee permanently.
Banerjee focussed on state in isolation, didn't notice the approaching threat
Like Bose perhaps, Banerjee's problem is that she gets too much obsessed with a feeling of self-importance and lets go issues that are more practical. Once the Saradha project, which had the agenda of making Banerjee the prime minister after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections crumbled and began to backfire, Banerjee and her partymen were rattled but yet put up a brave face thinking the TINA (There Is No Alternative) situation in Bengal would save their day. They added it up with a sharp attack on Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate for the general elections, to ensure that the minority votes are not wasted.
Was Mamata ill-equipped to deal with a stronger enemy?
But the TMC chief is perhaps not strategically well-equipped to tackle an all-India enemy. In the past, she used to take the advantage of the coalition instability when it came to dealing with central governments by using a pressure tactics and moved from one national party's alliance to the other's. Now, with a majority government at the Centre, there is no middle way available for the leader who loves to bully her political opponents. The BJP has turned Banerjee's disadvantage to its advantage and has doubled the pressure on her with the help of the weapon called Saradha.
'Retreat' from national politics hasn't helped Mamata either
Another factor that has made this contest look tilted towards the BJP is Banerjee's 'retreat' from the national politics. For most of her political career, Banerjee had balanced between the state and the national politics nicely for her presence was required in both places to carry on with the struggle against the Left.
Mamata's physical 'retreat' from Delhi politics has done her a disservice
The Congress had lost its steam in the state by the time she had emerged in the scene in the mid-1980s and Banerjee required the Centre's backing to remain in the fight. After the TMC took birth, Banerjee continued with the same tactics of staying close to the Centre irrespective of the alliance to keep pressure on the Left government in Bengal. But once the Left collapsed in 2011, Banerjee focussed fully on the state and remained absent at the Centre. The fact that she has no second-generation leadership in the party meant that the TMC failed to fit well in the politics at the Centre as Banerjee remained stationed in Bengal.
For a leader who harbours national ambition, this proved to be counter-productive. Take the case of Naveen Patnaik or J Jayalalithaa. While the former hardly expresses any ambition to move beyond the Odisha borders, the latter, who hopes to become the prime minister one day, maintains a working relation with the ruler at the Centre.
Mamata Banerjee, like the Nitish Kumars or Mulayam Singh Yadavs, are left nowhere. It is only because the BJP has been a non-starter in her state that the TMC did not meet the fate of either the JD(U) or Samajwadi Party in their respective states. But given the remarkable rise in the BJP's vote-share in Bengal, a distant possibility of the TMC being humbled at the hustings cannot be ruled out.
For Shah, who was a state leader till the Lok Sabha election results came out, it is a big opportunity to make an all-India mark and there is no doubt that he would make every step count in his Project Bengal.
Isolationist policy doesn't pay any more, the Bengal leaders must understand
The problem with the Bengali socio-political mind is that it loves to thrive in isolation and cares little about the practical threats and problems. The Left has done that for years and now the TMC is blindly imitating its predecessor. The Congress and the Left have virtually vanished from the state, thanks to inner feuds and exhausted leadership and organisation, respectively. Since no vacuum exists in politics as in physics, the BJP has stepped in to fill in the gap and taken on the last barrier in Banerjee.
Till now, the Bengal leadership, whether it is the Left or the TMC, have conveniently attacked a docile Centre to hide their own governments' drawback. But now, when the Centre itself has taken a strong initiative vis-a-vis Bengal, the state leadership doesn't really know where to find refuge.
It will be difficult for Banerjee to defend herself in the Saradha debacle for just as the opportunists had flocked to the politics-business nexus when Saradha had flourished, they would move away to the BJP when things begin to impact them. The result would be disastrous for Banerjee, the symbol of honesty.
Banerjee had said before the Lok Sabha election that she would have tied a rope around Modi's waist and sent him to jail if she was in Delhi. That was the strategy for that time. Now, it is Modi who is in Delhi and not Banerjee.
Is the dictator at the receiving end now?