Mamata's politainment: A move that may boomerang

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Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee has created a pre-poll sensation, not by announcing any unexpected alliance with any other outfit but by releasing a 'glamour' list of her party's 42 candidates contesting from West Bengal.

The candidates include current and former actors, a former football star, two Bengali singers, a theatre personality and a distinguished academic. What is even more interesting is that most of these first-time candidates (only two among them are a term old) have been fielded in constituencies which are not known to be strongholds of the TMC. So what is the thought behind this move to blend politics with entertainment and give birth to politainment, a story which is more familiar in southern India?

A move to rattle powerful candidates of the Opposition

Banerjee has taken this move mainly to rattle an already beleaguered opposition. She knows very well that since she doesn't have powerful second-rank leaders in her party who can take on powerful individuals from the opposition parties in their respective bastions, the idea to unleash the celebrity power against those opponents could be a risk worth taking.

While these celebrities have perhaps reaped the benefit of their dedicated loyalty to the party supremo, for Banerjee they make up a nice ammunition to make the few remaining powerful opponent candidates think twice in their respective constituencies. As far as Bhaichung Bhutia's candidature from Darjeeling is concerned, it is a move which is bound to rattle the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in the Hills.

Such move will demoralise the grassroot leaders

But there are a few questions as well. First, will this decision to field so many celebrity and apolitical candidates leave an adverse impact on the TMC's foot soldiers. There are already signs of dissent in the lower rungs after a Kolkata-based singer was made the candidate from a northern district of the state. For a leader like Banerjee who has a reputation of making it big despite having no patronage, something which is rare in Indian politics, is it a nice precedent to be set? Definitely not. If these celebrities lose, not only the seats will be gone but the losses will also demoralise the ruling party's base.

Are these celebrity candidates committed?

Secondly, how much dedicated will be these celebrities towards politics if they indeed win? The selected candidates are either in the prime of their profession or are retired artistes but not known much for any social service. To expect commitment and expertise from these personalities will be too much of an ask.

Thinking nationally, acting locally: Banerjee's contradiction

And the third and the most critical question which one can ask is: Has Banerjee actually damaged her own party's prospects in the national politics through this move?

It looks so for Banerjee has exhibited an unhealthy contradiction by making a set of celebrities her party's candidates for the upcoming general polls. The leader, who was relatively calm for some time after her withdrawal from the UPA in late 2012, began to assert herself as a new alternative in the national politics and stressed a strong federal front.

Veteran anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare recently showered praise on her and her party subsequently saw significant people rushing in.

Suddenly, there are bytes on popular media that Banerjee is also on her way to emerge even bigger and in her recent interview to Times Now's Arnab Goswami, Banerjee spoke in national terms even emphasising on the fact that she would have no problem in working with other heavyweight women leaders like Jayalalithaa and Mayawati and even with other parties.

If the TMC chief is indeed thinking big and speaking about her national ambitions, then why she thought too locally and narrowly to field politically unheard of candidates in 10 important seats of West Bengal? If she indeed wanted to created a sensation, she could have fielded nationally known faces from those seats. That would have been a more sensible sensation. Also, given they are elected can such politically inexperienced candidates make any impact on the national stage to push forward the agenda of an ambitious Mamata? Chances are low.

Banerjee is perhaps over-confident at the moment. The series of victories since 2008 have made her party and its leaders so. But when over-confidence gives way to recklessness, then there is something to worry about.

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