Current Issues Politics

Assembly Elections: Bengali Takeaway

by Pradeep Mathur

Why did Mr. Narendra Modi, a firmly- entrenched Prime Minister enjoying vast popular support, choose to make a mere assembly election, a matter of life and death for himself and his party is difficult to understand. Equally difficult to understand is why defending her citadel, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had to be so abrasive and indiscriminate in attacking all those whom she thought were coming in way of her march to victory. Anyway, now the most important question is as to what will be the longer-term impact, if any, of the West Bengal elections on the national political scene. With West Bengal three more important states and one Union Territory also went for assembly elections. However, it was only in West Bengal that the BJP thought of fighting the election as if it were a trial match for the forthcoming election for the seat of power in New Delhi.

In fact, by over-campaigning and directly targeting her, Prime Minister Modi has enhanced Mamata Banerjee’s stature. He made the election scene in West Bengal a Modi-Mamata battle. He forgot a very basic principle of management that is: Never confront your junior directly because a direct confrontation is always among equals and if you directly take on your junior you raise his/her stature. In fact it was a colossal mistake he made. TMC’s ever alert M.P. Mahua Moitra seized the opportunity to make a big dent in the Prime Minister’s image.

Whether she retained the power or not, whether she won the Nandigram seat or lost it, thanks to Mr. Narendra Modi, her principal adversary, Mamata Banerjee is now an acknowledged national leader. Even those who were her critics till the other day now concede that she displayed strong guts and tremendous fighting capability during the election campaign. Not only this, she earned a lot of sympathy from many quarters as perception went around that an aging and frail, modestly–clad woman on a wheel-chair was being hounded by a big group of rich and resourceful men and their powerful propaganda machinery because she was standing for the poor and the downtrodden in her state.

BJP strategists may not like it but the fact is that the way things moved in an unusually long- drawn electoral battle the entire liberal democratic public opinion in the country veered round to support Mamata Banerjee. From agitating farmers and workers to minorities, human rights groups, left-wing students and activists felt that Mamata was fighting their battle with an insensitive establishment. Their new-found love for Mamata Banerjee will not benefit her in the on-going election but it has certainly given her an all-India acceptance.

Therefore, thanks again to Mr. Modi, Mamata Banerjee today is the tallest non-BJP and non-Congress political leader in the country. She has left all major non-Congress leaders like Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, Akhlesh Yadav, Mayawati and Chandrababu Naidu far behind in the race for the top slot in New Delhi. If the BJP loses the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and the Congress has to play second fiddle in a coalition government she stands a very good chance to be the Prime Minister. Her party has already given an indication of her ambitions by saying that she will challenge Modi in Varanasi in the next Lok Sabha elections. We can take it for granted that as the next Chief Minister, a bitter and battle-scarred Mamata Banerjee will keep relentlessly attacking the BJP and its top leadership. She will no doubt become the rallying point of all anti-BJP forces in the country. For a party that won comfortable majority in two subsequent parliamentary elections, its charismatic Prime Minister, who hates to be countered, its  self-righteous leaders and exuberant cadres, putting up with a genuine left- of- the- center mass leader will be a new experience  which they are sure  to find bitter and distasteful.  

 Prof Pradeep Mathur is a veteran journalist, and former professor and Course Director at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. He is the Chief Editor of Align India News Portal.

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