Mamata Banerjee today stands as one of the few unaligned politicians who has the capacity to capture the national audience. She is a state leader with a national stature. A quintessential outsider who made it big on her own merit and hard work.
She not only defeated the Left Front but also stopped the BJP’s surge in West Bengal. Whether it was 'Ma Mati Manush' campaign line or Congress-Left combine campaign against her, Mamata survived. She bettered herself. Highly populist, overtly loud but simple in style, Mamata today stands at the crossroad.
The question is whether Mamata Banerjee can do a Harkrishan Surjit? Can Mamata be a Kingmaker? Can Mamata forge an alliance of regional parties with the Congress to give a good fight in the Lok Sabha elections slated in 2019?
The answer lies in the changing landscape of the Indian politics. The 1970s saw the rise of powerful non- Congress leadership across Indian states. Most of the leaders enjoyed iconic status in the national politics. From Karunanidhi to Prakash Singh Badal to Sharad Pawar to Hedge to Bal Thackery, these leaders had both way and the say. The politics at Centre had leaders like Charan Singh, Madhu Dandavate, Surendra Mohan, Somnath Banerji, Chandrashekhar and many others. They were united by anti-Congressism.
It is this stream which birthed two non-Congress governments. The first was between 1970-80 and second was 1990 VP Singh’s government and third was United Front experiment of 1996-98. Surprisingly all three tenures gave two prime ministers each. The first had Morarji Desai and Charan Singh. The second one gave VP Singh and Chandrasekhar and the last gave Deve Gowda and IK Gujaral.
Once this exercise got politically discredited, India saw a split in the regional parties on the issue of Congress and, subsequently, most of them took positions on the issue of secularism. It is because of this division that Vajpayee government came to power in 1998. It was called the NDA. The same experiment was successfully replicated by Congress in 2004 when it formed the government under the rubric of UPA.
This world collapsed after 2014. BJP expanded its base across India, edging out its own alliance partners like Shiv Sena. Similar expansion took place in North East where regional parties became subservient to BJP’s consolidating social base. Those who managed to stand tall, either allied with BJP or stayed neutral like the TRS. It is this complex scenario that Mamata will have to navigate in case she wants to play a bigger role nationally.
Occasionally, Mamata has aligned with other regional leaders on national issues but she remains tied to the state where politics is volatile and she is the lobe pole. Secondly, Mamata also has to deal with the Left which has collaborated very closely with the Congress both at the state and national level. In my opinion, the days of the powerful kingmakers from states are over.
Most of the chief ministers are today only opinion makers. They can influence a discourse but none of them have the capacity to build a confederacy. Almost all are unpredictable and solely focused on their existence as a regional party which runs like a family cartel. In this scenario, Mamata will have her national say but stay rooted to West Bengal as she knows that her power stems from it, and rest of India can be extremely time consuming and politically disastrous as Kejriwal tasted it first-hand. For now, Mamata will stay in both news and views but from West Bengal, unless 2019 throws up a fractured Parliament and the Lady keeps her numbers in the Lower House.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).