“No party should be considered small. All are important". This was Mamata Banerjee’s response when asked whether Congress would ever accept her as their leader and listen to her advise. With this, Banerjee’s ambitions to move centre stage and look at a larger role for herself becomes clear.
There are two reasons why the Bengal chief minister has set her heart on mission 2024, even though Lok Sabha elections are more than two years away. The state polls became not just a political but also a personal fight for Banerjee.
Having won Bengal, she has yet to get over the acrimonious fight she faced and has not made it a personal issue with the BJP and PM Modi. Those close to Banerjee, who observe her, notice her near desperation and restlessness to teach the BJP a lesson. The personal reason is now overcome her political sense.
Its almost a ‘do or die’ for her, like it was in 2011 against the Left in Bengal. But the astute Banerjee is aware that the odds are not all in her favour. Those who say that if a CM like Modi could become a PM, then why not she? There are fundamental differences.
First, she is not backed by nor does she come from a large party like the BJP. Two, she suffers the language issue and its rare that a non-north Indian becomes PM. Dewe Gowda, Narasimha Rao were exceptions but they had the backing of other parties or came from a big party like the Congress, in the case of Rao.
Banerjee is aware of this, which is why despite having had frosty relations with the Congress, she has now decided to reach out. A meeting with Sonia Gandhi after almost six years may be the ice breaker. But before meeting Gandhi, the Bengal chief minister met Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma and Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Nath and Sharma have been her colleagues in youth Congress. They are her road to the grand old party to also convey the message that Congress would have to get its act together, even as she was told that no anti-BJP front was possible minus the Congress. Banerjee also told them that the grand old party cannot play the big brother anymore.
Banerjee is trying to be the Sonia Gandhi of 2004 who has woven an alliance with unthought of partners like the NCP and DMK. But there is a difference. While Gandhi had no ambition of becoming a PM and understood that she couldn’t be one, Banerjee wants to be the prime minister though she is mellow on it.
Sources say that she is working on a national role for herself. The first give away was her appointment as president of Trinamool Congress parliamentary party chief even though she is not an MP. She is ensuring she has the road open to Delhi.
Also, Banerjee is running out of time and has to be elected as MLA by November. The CM knows that she has to shed the outsider tag beyond Bengal. TMC despite its efforts to contest polls in other states, has yet to shed the tag of being a Bengal party.
Banerjee is planning to make trips across UP, south to get a sense of the nation and also to showcase herself. This apart, sources say Banerjee is brushing up on her Hindi. She was careful to speak in Hindi while addressing the media in Delhi. It’s part of an attempt at an image makeover for a larger role. But its not going to be an easy ride.
For Banerjee, despite her shrewd and astute political sense, getting a grip on the ruthless political style of north India may not be easy. Like when she believed Mulayam Yadav and pitched for Manmohan Singh as UPA’s presidential candidate even when Dr Singh was the PM. Banerjee was left red-faced when Mulayam Yadav did a U-turn and agreed to Pranab Mukherjee as presidential nominee.
The road to Delhi from Kolkata, is far, long, dusty and riddled with many surprises. Mamata Banerjee may have a lot of preparation to do.