Mamata Banerjee wrote a fresh chapter in history today by becoming the first Chief Minister to hold a protest rally in New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar in a long time. Her mission: to challenge the Union government and declare her willingness to support a no-confidence motion against the government.
She promised, like Arnold Schwarznegger, "I'll be back". Her next date with Delhi is 19 November 2012.
But the context of her barbs, directed against the UPA government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for “selling out the country”, had an uncanny resemblance to another challenge at this stage of UPA-1. The central characters then were Left leaders - mainly the CPI(M), but this time it is the latter's bitter rival in Bengal, the Trinamool Congress.
Four years ago, in July 2008, a very angry CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat had withdrawn support to the UPA-1 over the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. But the numbers were still stacked in favour of the UPA - or maybe the Congress managed to obtain the numbers to enable the government to survive. But Karat's bitterness only increased.
On Monday, an angry Mamata Banerjee raved and ranted against UPA-2. Like Karat, she asked all parties to unite to overthrow the Manmohan Singh government for its “anti-poor and pro-foreign” tilt. She has withdrawn support from the government but the numbers in Parliament are still in favour of the Congress-led UPA-2. If Karat was then looking desperately to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party for support, this time Mamata is humbly seeking his backing having burnt her fingers once with him during the presidential elections.
If Mulayam Singh was a crucial factor in UPA's survival in 2008, he is again playing the same role in 2012. The only difference this time is he is in power in his home state, Uttar Pradesh, having secured a thumping majority there in March. This time he has a greater stake in who rules at the centre.
To her credit, Mamata did not bring trainloads of people from West Bengal and chose to depend on her mass appeal in and around Delhi for pulling in the crowds at Jantar Mantar. She announced a plan to address another rally in Delhi on 19-20 November and that could be the time for her to show if she can mobilise crowds and also support from other non-committal political players like Mulayam Singh and Odisha Chief Minister Navin Patnaik.
She appeared deeply wounded, and in her characteristic style, laced with various Urdu and Hindi couplets, she sought to touch the hearts of the common people. Her withdrawal of support from the UPA has so far not affected the stability of the government even though her party was the biggest ally of ruling Congress. She is not willing to take that lying down any longer. Apart from FDI in retail, she is topping up her grievances with several other issues, including the diesel price hike, rationing of LPG cylinders and even digitalisation of cable TV with a set-top, which will become mandatory in four metros from 31 October.
“Ye sab rupaya lekar baithe hain, Janata inko vote nahi dega, chahe election aaj ho, kal ho, ya parson. Aur kitna paisa chahiye inko, pahle kaladhan bahar le gaye. I say kala dhan wapas lao. Is sarkar ke khilaf awaz uthao (They have collected loads of money. People are not going to vote if elections are held today, or tomorrow, or the day after. How much money do they need? First they took black money out of the country. I say bring back that black money. Raise your voice against this government).
NDA convener and JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav’s presence at the rally came as a booster for her - a signal that she could be the rallying point in any fresh realignment of political forces at the centre. But Yadav was conscious of his position as convener of the the BJP-led opposition coalition. While he called her a “Bengal tigress” for showing rare guts in pulling out of the UPA government, he said he was not there as leader of any particular party but just as a Mamata admirer.
Whatever Yadav may have said from the dais, he definitely softened Mamata up and could up open a line of communication with her at a later date depending on how politics shapes up.
She will now tour and hold rallies in Patna, Lucknow and some other places. With Sharad Yadav pledging his support for Patna, Mamata issued a fresh appeal to the father-son duo of Mulayam and Akhilesh Yadav for support. The father had ditched long-standing friends in the Left Front in 2008, and he ditched Mamata during the presidential elections.
One wonders if he will change his mind by November.