Dear Mamata-di, what's the hurry for Delhi foray?

Flop show sans Anna shows Mamata Banerjee has a long way to go before she can garner sizeable support in national politics

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Puja Bhattacharjee | March 13, 2014



On February 19, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee addressed a joint media conference with social activist Anna Hazare. "Our party will support whichever honest candidate Annaji recommends (outside of Bengal and northeastern states)," Banerjee had said, sitting to Hazare’s left.

Three weeks on, addressing solo what was supposed to be a joint rally at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, Banerjee said, “My political identity is based on fighting; I can fight alone, if required.”

She wasn’t spinning a yarn. Having split from the state Congress and almost single-handedly bringing up the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to be a force to reckon with in national politics, and ousting over three decades of Left Front administration back home, Banerjee knows more than many about fights – political and social. In fact, despite the presence of only a few hundred at her rally, when the firebrand leader can summon a 5,000-strong crowd at the flick of her fingers in Bengal, she put up a brave face, hinting at forthcoming rallies in Punjab and Haryana.

But what the whole episode has shown is Banerjee’s relative political immaturity on the national stage. In her eagerness to emerge as a kingmaker with a bigger say in national politics, she might have shown signs of a weakness that no one in Bengal knew existed in her armoury. Haste.

What even Banerjee’s worst critics would admit is the fact that she waited for her biggest ally – time – in bringing about the downfall of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government, using those years to plant the ‘trinamools’ (or grassroots) deep in the land that was seen to see red at the colour green. Having painstakingly created the new party from scratch, and then done the seemingly impossible in Bengal, it was widely believed that she would show the repeat the success mantra nationally.

So, the question is, did Banerjee act in haste? Unlike Narendra Modi, who has steered his state for 13 years before stepping up to the national stage, Banerjee’s government has been in power for only three years. Many feel she needs to spend a little more time leading her state, building a good model of governance before pursuing national ambitions.

To take the Modi example again – though this in no way equates the two leaders, who are as different as chalk and cheese – the BJP prime ministerial candidate has a large support base in Gujarat among all classes. Banerjee, though popular at the grassroots level, is seen to have already lost allegiance of the intelligentsia and the urban middle class due to her unpredictable demeanor.

At present, she not only needs to get back their trust but also needs to be level-headed while interacting with the masses.
But was Anna Hazare’s absence the only reason behind Banerjee’s flop show in Delhi on Wednesday (March 12)? Though a force to reckon with in Bengal, Banerjee is not seen as a reliable/dependable ally outside the state, particularly in Delhi. Her repeated alliances and splits with both the UPA and the NDA, and resignation as railway minister (both her own, as well as forcing Dinesh Trivedi to follow suit) has not endeared her to many. Which brings us back to the same issue: she requires more time to nurture not just her constituency in Bengal but create fresh ones and cultivate her image as a kingmaker, like Jayalalithaa has done, sitting back in Chennai.

But most of all, she needs to acquire better public relations skills to be a national leader of any significance.

 

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