Last Monday, Mamata Banerjee had a visitor in the form of Tejashwi Yadav. The RJD scion, fresh off a narrow loss to the BJP-JD(U) loss in Bihar just a few months ago, expressed his unequivocal admiration for Didi, calling it his ‘duty’ to strengthen the TMC’s hands in West Bengal. But why wasn’t Tejashwi backing his own Bihar allies — the Congress and Left — in Bengal? “Our alliance with Congress and Left is only in Bihar”, he brushed off questions.
Two days later, another Yadav jumped into the Bengal poll fray. SP’s Akhilesh Yadav vowed to support Mamata, offering his party’s support in campaigning for her. And 24 hours later, the Congress’ two allies in Maharashtra — Shiv Sena and NCP — joined in with their endorsement of Mamata. Sanjay Raut even went as far as to call Mamata the ‘real Bengal Tigress’. The message is clear. The Congress’ friends are more than willing to dump it and place their bets on the current Chief Minister of West Bengal. Clearly Mamata, and not any of the Gandhis, is emerging as the face of the Opposition.
To begin with, Rahul Gandhi is ‘officially’ not the Congress party chief, yet he belongs to the family which essentially controls the party. His position of power without accountability has rankled the 23 veterans within his party to publicly (and embarrassingly) revolt against the high command, right on the eve of elections.
Mamata Banerjee on the other hand is the undisputed face of the party — both in Bengal and across the nation. Her leadership as well as her chosen successor is virtually unchallenged. More importantly, Mamata has delivered where Rahul has failed time and again — leading her party to victory in two Assembly elections and to a dominant haul of seats in the two Lok Sabha elections. While Rahul is still struggling to shrug off the tag of a reluctant neta who tends to disappear on foreign tours in moments of crisis, Mamata is known and respected as a political street fighter who will never shy away from a fight.
That is what brings us back to the curious case of the Congress’ own allies backing its rival in the Bengal polls. The BJP under Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and JP Nadda has launched probably its fiercest fight yet in a state election.
The perception is building. If Mamata somehow manages to become a giant killer and thwart the might of the formidable BJP poll juggernaut, is she then the preferred choice to take on the Prime Minister in 2024? After all, the parallels between the political careers of Modi and Mamata are undeniable. Both are grass root leaders, who toiled and fought for years to reach the top and then rule their respective States for over a decade, eclipsing all opposition within the party.
In 2014, Narendra Modi was able to climb the next step and establish himself as a national force. Surely, Mamata aspires to do the same?
Mamata Banerjee ticks off almost all the boxes needed. She has built up a formidable CV, both as an administrator and as a politician. Her ideological opposition to Hindutva makes her a natural rallying point for anti-BJP voices. Critically, unlike the Gandhis, she has the support and the respect of her fellow regional players. All that could be needed to complete the list, is a resounding victory on May 2, which of course is much easier said than done.
So can Mamata somehow pull off the greatest and most significant triumph in her political career — one that is bound to catapult her to the top of any ‘Modi vs Who?’ discourse? Will Uddhav and Pawar’s admiration of Didi extend to a point where they are ready to sacrifice their own political egos and national aspirations? And is the Congress now at the danger of losing its position as the natural fulcrum for any anti-BJP formation?
May 2, may settle the Battle for Bengal, but it could also see the first shots fired in the War for 2024.