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Sucker Punch - Snehangshu Adhikari - The Sunday Indian
 
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Sucker Punch

 

Mamata Banerjee in her quest for broadening Trinamool’s pan Indian appeal, is trying far and wide. Snehangshu Adhikari reports.
SNEHANGSHU ADHIKARI | Issue Dated: March 30, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Mamata Banerjee | Trinamool Congress | Anna Hazare |
 

Mamata Banerjee, Trinamool Congress Chief and Bengal chief minister has no reason to look back. This is understandable. After the Anna Hazare fiasco, where a much-touted joint rally with the anti-corruption crusader in Delhi did not work out the way it should have in the absence of both the star participant and crowds, any future dalliance of the sort looks impossible and the party is quite happy to treat it as a ‘closed chapter’.

Clearly, the feisty Bengal leader’s Plan A has been closed. As per this plan, after the Delhi joint rally, the Anna-Mamata duo was set to address an anti-Modi rally at Ahmedabad, which was designed to impress upon the audience Mamata’s all India credentials. But that was not to be. A highly placed Trinamool source told TSI: “We have learnt our lesson with Anna. Didi (Mamata) will concentrate on her mainstay Bengal, from where she is hopeful of getting maximum number of Lok Sabha seats.”

So back to Plan B it is. The All India Trinamool Congress' high command, leaving its disappointment behind, is all set to push harder in the last round of Lok Sabha campaigning. With higher secondary examinations commencing in the state, Mamata has issued strict instructions against the use of loud speakers. More such pro-civilian moves are expected in the coming days.

It's not that she needs these simplistic measures to win votes. Politically, she is ahead of her rivals, including the Congress. Keeping up with her national aspirations, she will contest 78 Lok Sabha seats (based on the latest count) including 42 in Bengal. Says veteran political analyst Amalendu Khasnabish, “As per the new schedule, Mamata’s state-wide campaign which started at Pailan followed by Maldah, Itahar and Lalbagh is going to be the hottest ever organized by a political party in this state.’’

Understandably, CPM – which has been lying strangely inactive after their defeat – claims Mamata will lose. Claims a CPM leader: “She is a complete bluff master. She doesn’t even remember what she says. Till yesterday, it was ‘our’ meeting and now it is ‘Anna’s’ meeting. She has every right to daydream but a reality check is a totally different matter.’’ But neither the Pradesh Congress nor the state BJP seems to be in any mood to mock her. Her hold over the eastern belt only seems to have gotten stronger since her legislative wins.

Back to the much-hyped Anna-Mamata rally, which was scheduled in Delhi and was supposed to be the ‘launching platform’ for Mamata Banerjee – who has 18 MPs in the current Lok Sabha – on the national stage. The compelling impetus for this joint rally came from a joint press conference that Anna Hazare had with Mamata in Delhi some days before the rally, throwing broad hints of supporting her. But why did Anna openly support her, if he did not wish to back her later? Says one analyst:  “Anna had some self-interest. He was keen on regaining national focus which with time has transferred itself to Arvind Kejriwal. So the joint rally with Mamata, he thought, would have helped him regain some of the ground lost to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).’’ But Anna has been quite honest and upfront about the reasons due to which he skipped the rally. He said he had absented himself at Delhi’s Ram Lila Maidan for the joint rally neither because of illness nor because he was no more supporting Mamata, but because the attendance was very thin. His support for Mamata was reinforced in an exclusive interview that the legendary social activist gave to TSI last week, where he said that while many leaders tom-tom simple living, it is only Mamata who actually follows it – and that's one of the reasons that has impressed him. And of course, the fact that Mamata has agreed to all the manifesto points that Anna forwarded to her, was the main reason Anna supports Mamata still – and does not support Kejriwal, due to AAP's lack of confirmation on agreeing to Anna's electoral points.

One must mention that Trinamool general secretary Mukul Roy left no stone unturned before the rally to convince Anna Hazare by rushing to the Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi – alas to no avail. Roy told journalists: “As far as I am concerned, the joint rally with Anna on March 20 in Ahmedabad has been postponed. No further joint programmes with him have yet been decided. Since both the Congress and the BJP remain a big no, we are going ahead with fighting from as many constituencies as possible on our own.”

Yes, Mamata did mention after the weak rally, “This is Anna’s rally and a completely social rally. We came here at his request. If it would have been a Trinamool rally, we could have brought our own people but we did not want to do because this is not a political rally. My political identity is based on fighting; I can fight alone if required”.

Veteran writer Mahasweta Devi, for long a Mamata backer, commented: “As long as people’s support is there for her, she doesn’t need any outsider. Politics is indeed a peculiar thing. I am still surprised how a gentleman like Anna can do this to Mamata. Personally I think it’s a great opportunity lost for him. For Mamata, there is nothing to be worried about. And neither is she bothered. The way Mamata handled the Anna debacle is truly commendable. She should now concentrate on her dream and destination.’’ But despite the setback, Mahasweta sticks to her stand that India needs a combination like Anna and Mamata. She told the media: “I still believe that if any kind of political equation emerges centering around Mamata, it is the best option for the country. I firmly believe that Mamata is the most suitable candidate to be prime minister of India.”

This is exactly how Anna had endorsed Mamata, saying she was the only leader in the country who had replied to his letter on the 17-point agenda for the nation. He did not stop there. Drawing a clear cut comparison between Mamata and his once-most-beloved Arvind Kejriwal, Anna said the former had made more sacrifices than the latter. He also awarded her more marks than Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. He highlighted Mamata’s village-centric economic policies, while both Congress and BJP, according to him, remained focus only on big corporations. Says Khasnabish: “It is very clear that Anna will no more be satisfied by playing only the role of a referee. He also wants to be a player. Otherwise, he would never have thought about organising such a joint rally with Mamata.  He is aware of her mass base...’’

In the meantime, the octogenarian Gandhian social-activist has shot off a letter to Arvind Kejriwal offering a Mamata-like support to him. The AAP boss has shown signs of breaking away from his mentor on more than one occasion, but has refused to do so, openly claiming that Anna will always remain a guiding light.

For now, the fact is that Anna's endorsement for Mamata still exists; and for Mamata, even though a Prime Minister's post may seem a far fetched dream, one can never forecast vote bank politics. If the BJP wished to push Congress and its allies out of power, it may even offer the PM's post to Mamata for return support – or so the sources say. Would Mamata agree to such a support? Like we said, one can never forecast votebank politics.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017