The immediate challenge Mamata faces is the Assembly election in 2021. It’s still two years away, but during this period, will she be able to contain the migration of her leaders to the BJP and the dent in her party’s popularity?
What does one make of Mamata Banerjee’s outreach to the Left and the Congress? That she is desperate? Most certainly. That she is unsure of taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party on her own? Definitely. The Lok Sabha election results have left her rattled and disoriented. She is now clutching at straws, and imaginary ones at that.
Senior Left leader Mohammed Salim has rejected the West Bengal Chief Minister’s offer to join hands to take on the BJP. He said that that his party was under no “compulsion” to bail out Mamata Banerjee’s political career. Salim is a clever politician. He instantly recognised the West Bengal Chief Minister’s game plan — that of saving herself rather than that of countering the BJP’s ideology to which the Left parties are stridently opposed. And why should the communists jump in to be her saviour? It was she who decimated the Left in the State. It was she who stole the lumpen elements which had kept the fear of the Left alive in the masses. And it was she who had made it known that the Left was the State’s biggest villain.
It is possible that Mamata Banerjee’s last-resort brainwave to seek an understanding with the Left and the Congress was prompted by the political strategist Prashant Kishor, who has most recently offered her services to the Trinamool Congress.
Mamata Banerjee also marginalised the Left in another way. Through her blatant appeasement policies and brazen intolerance of the Right, she prepared the ground for the BJP’s rise in the State and the eventual occupation of the primary opposition space by the BJP. This shut out the Left even further, making it difficult for the communists to regain lost ground.
It can be argued that, if the Samajwadi Party and the BSP could come together in Uttar Pradesh, why cannot the Left and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress do so in West Bengal? The electoral outcome of the experiment is Uttar Pradesh is known to everybody. Besides, the two regional parties have already fallen apart. There is a lesson in there which the West Bengal Chief Minister seems to have missed in reaching out to the Left: That an alliance based purely on an anti-Modi platform is doomed to fail. The voters need an alternative plan of governance, policies and programmes which are better than that of the BJP. Can there be any meeting ground between the Left and the Trinamool Congress on these parameters?
The Left, moreover, is not desirous of losing whatever little support it now has in the State. If its cadre is told that it has to work in tandem with Mamata Banerjee’s party, then it would either sabotage the process at the ground level during elections or switch over to the BJP. On their part, voters of the Left would feel betrayed and would, similarly, prefer going over to the BJP. While the communists realise that they have to counter the BJP first before taking on the Trinamool Congress, the roadmap is not to join hands with Mamata Banerjee, whose mercurial nature does not pretend well for any long-term arrangement. And, assuming, for argument’s sake, that the Left and the Trinamool Congress come together and contain the BJP in the State, what next? Will the bonhomie continue with Mamata Banerjee in the forefront? Where would that leave the Left parties? They would be neither in the government nor in the opposition.
Relatively speaking, an understanding between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress is more realistic. The latter is, after all, a breakaway faction of the Congress, with Mamata Banerjee having served in the Congress and developed her image of a fiery grassroots leader in that party. But the Congress is for the present not too enthusiastic, and there are reasons for that. One, it is facing a leadership crisis which makes it difficult for the party to take big decisions until its internal problems are settled. Two, it understands the West Bengal ruling party’s growing unpopularity and is loathe to ride a rattling bandwagon. And three, it might as well say goodbye for ever to its prospects in the State if it were to become subordinate to the Trinamool Congress. That is why the Congress’s leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary, skipped definitive comment on Mamata Banerjee’s offer, saying that it was for the high command to decide. Incidentally, he has been one of the Congress’s most vocal opponents of the Trinamool Congress and its chief.
It is possible that Mamata Banerjee’s last-resort brainwave to seek an understanding with the Left and the Congress was prompted by the political strategist Prashant Kishor, who has most recently offered her services to the Trinamool Congress. Kishor has worked with the BJP, the Janata Dal (United) and the Congress, and is not really committed to any of them. As a mercenary, he sells his strategy ware to anyone who wishes to purchase them. He has had a mixed track record; he gained attention as a strategist with the BJP after the party swept to power in 2014, but was down in the dumps after his attempts to shore up the Congress’s fortunes in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections flopped.
For now, it appears that Mamata Banerjee has to fight her battles alone. Having rubbed her rivals the wrong way more than once, she cannot hope for their consideration, now that she is in a crisis mode. The immediate challenge she faces is the Assembly election in 2021. It’s still two years away, but during this period, will she be able to contain the migration of her leaders to the BJP and the dent in her party’s popularity?
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.