This is the second time in less than two years that the chief minister of West Bengal found herself at the receiving end after she tried to produce something eye-catching in New Delhi, at the hear of the national politics.
In the summer of 2012, she was left nowhere after Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav pretended to back her to ruin the Congress's plans to project Pranab Mukherjee as the president and then did a U-turn at the last moment to support the Congress candidate. Left completely alone, Banerjee had no other option but to support Mukherjee.
This time also, she showed a great enthusiasm after Hazare endorsed her as a prime ministerial candidate and even announced with the veteran activist that she would take his advice in finalising the TMC's candidates outside Bengal. But before anything took shape, the partnership was broken, but why? Was there an invisible hand somewhere?
Was it an attempt to corner Mamata Banerjee in national politics?
One suspects the entire episode was engineered to corner Banerjee and curb her ambition to emerge as a national player. The TMC chief had been saying confidently till recently that her party would be an alternative to the Congress and BJP.
After the debacle at the Ramlila Maidan, Banerjee was heard saying that the TMC would emerge as the third largest party in the Lok Sabha election. She is also planning to concentrate on Bengal more now. Well, well... the Delhi strategy has definitely stole some air out of her sails and showed where her realistic limits are. Was Anna Hazare an instrument in the scheme of things?
It is Mamata's fault
But if indeed there was a plan to rattle Banerjee, nobody but the leader herself is responsible for the debacle. Here are some points on why she committed a blunder.
First, what was the point in partnering with Anna Hazare, who is well past his prime in terms of political success, at a crucial moment before the polls? It showed an amateurish move on the part of Banerjee to do so and even going to the extent of saying that Hazare would choose her party's candidates. Did she judge whether the move would have any advantage?
Secondly, what was the reason to join hands with an apolitical person ahead of the elections? An apolitical person will always think about his personal benefits and the explanation that Hazare didn't go to the rally fearing that the audience will be thin proves that point. Hazare fled but it was a seasoned politician Banerjee who had to bear the brunt.
Thirdly, just because Banerjee blindly trusted Hazare and didn't read the pitch about what could be the probable design behind all the praises, she has exposed herself. A month ahead of the elections and few people attending her rally in the national capital, the message that goes clearly is that Banerjee is yet to become a national leader. Take out the Bengal factor and Banerjee has little appeal. This is not at all healthy for a leader who is aspiring to play a national role.
Fourthly, the entire episode also exposes the TMC's poor grip in Delhi. It shows that the parliamentarians of the party are of little or no importance in advising the party supremo on how to handle such a crucial situation. May be a one-person outfit has such disadvantage. When the head fails, the entire body crumbles. This time as well, the TMC chief has picked a number of celebrities who have little experience in politics. Are they capable enough to gauge the depth of politics outside Bengal and help the party's top brass devise its strategy? One doubts.
Fifthly, chief ministers who are far more senior than Banerjee are still playing it cautiously when it comes to the national politics. Leaders like Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik, Mulayam Singh and Nitish Kumar haven't claimed tall stories like the TMC chief and are silently working on their calculations. But Banerjee, due to some unknown reason, started believing that she can beat the national parties easily and pressed the top gear far too soon. The result was visible soon.
Mamata, not Hazare, was the bigger loser
For a national observer, the March 12 debacle may not be as alarming and most will conclude that it was Hazare's defeat. But for an observer in Bengal, it is more than that. A local newspaper loyal to Banerjee said after the rally that it was a huge hit. Was it deliberately done to keep Banerjee's local supporters happy about their leader's "growing stature"? Not unlikely. For at the end of the day, it is the local vote in Bengal which will keep Banerjee and her party relevant, not the big dreams about Delhi.
But can Banerjee take a leaf out of her bitter experiences now and learn how to deal with national forces? Enough of fooling herself now. An aspiring national leader can't afford to continue with such goof-ups.