West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, always considered a firebrand, has since transformed herself into a wounded tigress, who is unstoppable.
Nandigram has cast its shadow on West Bengal Assembly elections. What Mamata’s political opponents failed to anticipate, has happened. Her political opponents, in an unthinking moment, have done her an unintended benefit.
An injured Mamata Banerjee is more lethal and deadly for her political opponents than an otherwise normal person going about her election campaign. Now, the election campaign has been surcharged, with a surge of sympathy for Mamata Banerjee.
In a way, it is reminiscent of the Chickmagalur Lok Sabha byelection in Karnataka in 1978, when the then Janata Party that tried and failed miserably to stop Indira Gandhi in her tracks.
Long ago, Mamata Banerjee suffered serious injuries during an attack on her at the Hazra crossing in Kolkata during the Marxists’ dispensation, but she bounced back. She has demonstrated similar resilience, once again.
Nandigram was the flashpoint of her anti-land acquisition agitation. It catapulted her into a Pan Bengal leader, finally and decisively ousting the Left from power in 2011. It is in Nandigram, again, that she has now finally wrested the political initiative from her opponents.
Faced with a formidable challenge from the BJP, Mamata was looking for an opening to bring about a political turnaround. Her opponents gave it away, so early and so easily.
Already the West Bengal Assembly elections have become dramatic, with the BJP pulling out all stops, while the Election Commission has ordered an eight-phase polling, the longest one perhaps held anywhere, till date. West Bengal Assembly elections are being held in eight phases, starting from March 27 and the final round of voting on April 29. Counting of votes will take place on May 2.
Her political opponents hoped that an injured Mamata would be out of the campaign fray. Besides, her opponents would get a handle to attack the law and order situation in her State. Both were grave miscalculations.
Police under EC Control
Mamata’s political opponents missed a crucial point. Mamata, who bore the brunt of physical attacks during the Marxists rule, could never be cowed down and is not the one to so easily run away from the political battlefield.
On the other hand, they also missed out the point that during the Model Code that is in force during the elections, Police comes under the direct control of the Election Commission. Even the West Bengal Director-General of Police (DGP) was removed by the Election Commission, just before the attack took place on Mamata Banerjee.
The attack in Nandigram on Mamata Banerjee came as a shocker for all. It is universally accepted and acknowledged that violence has no room in a democracy. Who did it and what happened is all subject of investigation and inquiry. But what stands out is the fact that Mamata Banerjee is grievously injured, for which there can be no defence or no justification, whatsoever.
No condemnation of the attack came from the top political echelon, which is appalling. The Congress took an unequivocal stand. Despite the discordant note struck by West Bengal PCC President Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, official AICC Spokesperson Supriya Shrinate condemned the attack on Mamata Banerjee, saying violence has no room in democracy.
Yashwant Joins TMC
An immediate and almost instantaneous fallout was the decision of Yashwant Sinha, a former Union Finance Minister and former External Affairs Minister in the Vajpayee Government, to join the Trinamool Congress, in support of Mamata Banerjee.
Mamata Banerjee was also a member of the Vajpayee Government, as Coal Minister, and thus, a Cabinet colleague of Yashwant Sinha. While the friendship was there, the attack on Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram has led to a greater bonding and sympathy.
Yashwant Sinha declared, “The tipping point was the attack on Mamata Ji, in Nandigram. It was the moment of decision to join the TMC and support Mamata Ji.” In fact, Yashwant Sinha, a close confidante of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, was quick to draw comparisons between Vajpayee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Vajpayee, he said, believed in consensus, while the present dispensation believes in conquest.
At the moment, Yashwant Sinha brings credibility to the Mamata Camp. In contrast, there is a glaring lack of credibility in her political opponents.
In a sudden turn of events, Yashwant Sinha sent a short note to Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien, expressing his desire to join the Trinamool Congress at this juncture. Derek O’Brien moved quickly by taking the matter to the notice of Mamata Banerjee and getting her nod. Sinha flew into Kolkata and meeting Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram hospital, he formally joined the Trinamool Congress party headquarters in Kolkata.
Accident, or Attack
What is more shocking is the fact that though the attack took place in the midst of a battery of cameramen, such a ghastly incident was not captured. This leaves the field wide open for trading of charges. Did it happen accidentally, or is it part of a sinister design?
That may be the subject of investigation and inquiry. But, the fact remains that Mamata Banerjee was grievously injured, which was most unfortunate, unpardonable and indefensible. Physical attack and violence can have no justification and her indefensible.
Far from crying hoarse, or creating any acrimony or ruckus over the attack, or calling for revenge, instead, she gave it a human touch. Mamata has made it clear that despite the individual pain, it was the common man’s pain that hurts her more.
Addressing an election rally in Purulia, soon after being discharged from a hospital in Nandigram, Mamata Banerjee said, “Some people thought I would be confined to home after this injury. But the pain of the people is greater than mine and so I have decided to move around.”
This says it all. All this only adds to the discomfiture of her opponents. For her part, she steered clear of vendetta politics that adds to greater political credibility and wider acceptability.
This violent incident has helped Mamata to turn the tables on her political opponents. The dastardly injury has been turned into advantage by her. Now, a wheelchair-bound Mamata Banerjee is more deadly to her political opponents.
To her democratic approach, Mamata Banerjee has added Welfare State Ideal. Her reaching out to the people during the Covid-19 pandemic enhanced her credibility. Her decision to continue the welfare measures for the vulnerable sections has added sheen to her brand of politics.
Mamata Banerjee said, “For the first three months of the lockdown, we gave each family five kg of rice. Over the next three months, till September, we would provide five kg of rice along with an equal amount of flour to each family. We will provide a free ration till June, 2021. We give better quality rice than the Centre. Only 6.01 crore people or around 60 per cent of the people in Bengal have been benefited from the Centre free ration scheme. We are providing to 10 crore people.”
The political buzz is of the political pact between the BJP and the Left. Apparently, this has emboldened the BJP in Bengal. In fact, the BJP hopes are validated by the experience in the last parliamentary elections in 2019, which helped the BJP win 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal.
Buzz is that the Left is willing to transfer its vote to the BJP in Bengal. In return, the BJP may return the favour in Kerala by transferring its vote to the Left. This strengthens speculation of the Left retaining power, by bursting the trend of Congress and Left coming to power alternatively.
The Left and the erstwhile incarnation of the BJP, the Jan Sangh, were together in Government run by the Samyukth Vidhayak Dal, or SVD Government in 1967 in the States. And in the Centre, the Left has a track record of running the National Front Government of V P Singh, along with the BJP in 1989-90. Any protestations of Secularism by the Left would only sound hollow, given its track-record.
Rising from the ranks, Mamata Banerjee is a streetfighter, connected to the grassroots, who cannot be cowed down easily. Single-handedly, Mamata Banerjee has raised the electoral contest to an iconic level.
Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.
Views expressed are personal