The comfortable win by Mamata Banerjee in the recently concluded West Bengal assembly elections, beating Modi and Amit Shah’s BJP has raised speculation whether she will be a Prime Ministerial candidate in the next Lok Sabha election in 2024. The answer will be ‘No’ or ‘Yes’ depending on how you assess the situation, but a lot of people opposed to Modi see in Mamata a force that can hold back the Modi juggernaut.
“To use Hindu mythology that is frequently taken recourse to by the BJP, Mamata can emerge as Ma Durga who demolishes asuras (demons). Already analysts have started using such terminology,” says Arun Roy a Kolkata based professional. Forces opposed to Modi – and this would include the major opposition parties -would also be likely to push Mamata forward, using the same understanding. “Mamata can be the cover under whose umbrella opposition parties can seek to unite,” adds Roy. Right now the opposition forces are in disarray and are in strong need to unite.
West Bengal is however a small state in eastern India and can be marked as a strip running from north to south in the eastern part on the map of India. It has barely 42 seats in Lok Sabha whose strength is 545. Thus West Bengal does not even have 10 percent of the seats. “Though Bengalis are prominent in Indian society, their numbers are not enough to push one of them to the Prime Ministerial gaddi,” speculates a political analyst.
The only time that a Bengali came close to be a PM was Jyoti Basu, in 1998 at the head of the United Front government. But his chances were spoilt by CPM whose bosses denied him the possibility of being the PM by acting as a brake on his candidature. Will the whole range of opposition leaders, give up their ego and unite under Mamata, is the sixty four dollar question, for which no answer is available.
At the same time Mamata herself may not be ready to compete for the Prime Ministerial seat, if offered to her. It is likely that she understands the constraints under which she operates. “She only speaks Bangla and her Hindi is Bengali style and full of errors. It works only in Bengal,” says a BJP supporter. “If she starts speaking like this in other parts of the country she will only elicit peals of laughter and not evoke a serious response,” the BJP supporter declares.
However, in spite of all this, she might garner the Muslim votes in totality. Muslims account for 10-12 per cent of the national vote, and Mamata’s image amongst the minority community is very high. In West Bengal she took a pro minority stance and although diluted the stand in the last two years, her image has remained intact. Nationally such an image can yield her rich dividends electorally.
“Muslims are feeling out of depths for the last few years and will be attracted to a leader (that too a strong leader) who works for them,” says an analyst. “That such a leader is not a Muslim will work for the Muslims because Mamata may not have to defend her minority status in front of hard core Hindus. At the same time as we saw in the West Bengal assembly elections she recited Hindu religious hymns and recited slokas in the campaigning which strengthened her Hindu credentials,” the analyst added. Such a policy can work very effectively in India today.
The BJP understands all this. Therefore they would like to keep Mamata bound to West Bengal. In other words even without an election, BJP will keep challenging Mamata is her state and even today swore in their MLAs to an oath of duties even as the chief minister was sworn in. This will keep her confined to West Bengal and not allow her to expand her base beyond her present one.