Mamata Strikes Back: The Beginning of the End of the Left?

Posted in politics by armalcolite on May 26, 2009

One of the remarkable stories of the recently concluded elections has to be the fall of the left in their bastion of West Bengal. Though the fall was not entirely unexpected (and even long overdue for some), the sheer magnitude of the mandate against the Left (specifically the CPI M) could make this a watershed election in that it has changed the political landscape of a state hitherto considered an electoral dead rubber for many years to come.

The bigger fallout of this outcome is surely the emergence of Mamata Banerjee as a player on the national stage, not to mention a possible change of guard in West Bengal too. Though the Trinamool Congress was a part of the Vajpayee lead government (with 8 seats) in 1999 it could not boast of the kind of leverage it now does (and may continue to hold if Mamata Banerjee plays her cards right). But, the results are seen (due to a lack of a better alternative) more as a vote against the Left rather than a vote in favour of Trinamool. Though this may seem unfair given the fact that we may be on the brink of the end of an almost 35 year rule by the Left in West Bengal, it is only natural considering the fact that the Trinamool has done little save for political posturing over the Nandigram issue. However, as the title of this article suggests this is only the beginning for Mamata Banerjee and she may do well to take a leaf out of YS Rajashekhar Reddy’s book, who swept to power riding a similar wave of anti-incumbency in 2004 and has over the last 5 years consolidated the mandate with a mix of populist measures and wily politicking.

Despite the positive results of the Lok Sabha election, the Trinamool Congress have their work cut out if they have to preserve the mandate that they have got. One of their biggest challenges is (ironically) Mamata Banerjee herself. In spite of her clean image and reputation for getting work done her antics in the Parliament and other public forums have ensured that she was never taken seriously as an opposition to the Communists. From threatening to commit suicide to attacking political rivals in Parliament she has done it all. Her temper has often affected her political decisions, like quitting the Congress party and then shuttling between NDA and the Congress at for alliances to tackle the Left. In the similarly resurgent Congress party she may have finally found an ally with common intentions and prospects in Bengal, but given her temper, a sudden exit from the alliance can never be fully ruled out. But given the long term potential of her alliance with the UPA, Mamata Banerjee will understand the need to keep this union intact beyond the immediate future.

Another aspect of Mamata’s leadership is the fact that there are no other leaders within the party worth mention making her the single and tallest leader of the Trinamool. This was seen during the negotiations for ministerial posts when the Trinamool asked for only one cabinet post despite the fact that they could have gotten more. This has been seen as a sign of not encouraging other leaders within the party. But, it is only natural considering the brief history of the party and given the fact that Mamata Banerjee almost singlehandedly built the party. While the Left may be all but done for in Bengal, many argue that the Trinamool may be worse off than the Left given their support to the Nandigram and Singur struggles. The rhetoric that Mamata played up during this time has lead many to believe that she is anti industrialisation and may reverse the development that the Left has brought about in recent times. I would disagree with this view given the fact that Mamata Banerjee was not a bad Railway Minister under the NDA and her earlier stint as a Sports Minister too didn’t see too many complaints on her conduct as a Minister. It was her conduct outside and her antics with those who disagreed with her that caught media attention and which has given her the image that everyone now perceives her to be.

The results may yet be a case of continuity rather than change, as one political analyst recently remarked, the success of the Trinamool may in reality be a case of one set of goons replacing another. While it is a widely accepted fact that the Left’s continuous electoral success was based on widespread rigging through “party machinery”, post-Nandigram may have seen a new set of goons take over from where their predecessors left off.

All said and done, based on the current trends, the Trinamool and the Congress seem poised to storm the West Bengal Assembly in 2011. However, 2011 is still two years away and as the adage goes anything can happen in politics.

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