Figuring out the enigma that is Mamata Banerjee is going to be the next government’s headache, assuming they have a need for her support.
Anyone who watched her sense of righteous anger at yesterday’s press conference, where she announced her party’s decision to withdraw support to the UPA, cannot but suspect that there is more than just an opposition to reforms that underlies her outburst.
While it is widely believed that the Congress treats its allies as appendages and not equals, in the case of Mamata Banerjee this kind of attitude can be fatal. Reading Mamata Banerjee needs emotional intelligence (EQ), but the Congress fared poorly on this front.
A trained psychoanalyst may be able to decode her state of mind better, but an amateur reading of her statements – both in the events leading up to the current divorce with the UPA and the earlier near-breakup over the candidacy of Pranab Mukherjee for President – suggests that what she wants more than anything else is formal respect and recognition of her achievements in Bengal. And this achievement is the dethroning of the Left Front after nearly 33 years in power. Nobody but Mamata could have accomplished that, but everybody thinks that’s all over and Mamata must look ahead.
Underlying her statements are a deep sense of betrayal by the Congress, including Sonia Gandhi, on this score.
For example, she said yesterday: “I had spoken to Sonia Gandhi four days ago and conveyed (to her) that it would be difficult for us to support the latest decisions of the government.” Though she tried not to burn her bridges with Sonia, the statement can be translated to mean: “Sonia has not given me the respect due for being UPA’s largest ally and also to me personally.”
Mamata went on: “I know Congress. It will ditch Mamata and go to (Bahujan Samaj Party chief) Mayawati, it will ditch Mayawati and go to Mulayam (Singh Yadav) and then it will ditch Mulayam and go to (JD-U leader) Nitish Kumar," The Economic Times quoted her as saying.
Once again, this is a tell-tale statement laden with a deep sense of betrayal. She is saying the Congress is repeatedly betraying her and not giving due attention to her political needs. She believes that she deserves special treatment for Bengal, especially after the Left’s scorched earth policies left the state bankrupt. But the Congress is busy pandering to UP and other favoured states, not Bengal.
Hidden in the above statement is also Mulayam Singh’s own betrayal of her, when he first signed up with Mamata to support the candidacy of APJ Abdul Kalam, and then fell for a Congress blandishment and switched sides to Pranab Mukherjee.
Clearly, Mamata saw this as a double betrayal by Sonia and Mulayam. This could be one reason why this time she did not bother to coordinate her withdrawal of support with Mulayam Singh. She did not want to be betrayed again.
With Pranab Mukherjee, too, her initial reluctance to support his candidature related to his assumption that as the senior politician from Bengal, he was the elder brother.
But in Mamata’s mind, as Firstpost noted before, she has outgrown her kid sister status when she proved to be the giant killer who brought the Left down. Mukherjee failed to see that she now needed to be treated as an equal – and, in fact, his political senior. Mukherjee, whatever his capabilities, was a political lightweight in Bengal. Despite his seniority, it was only in 2004 that he won his first Lok Sabha seat. Mamata entered parliament as a giant-killer in 1984, when she defeated Somnath Chatterjee of the CPI(M), sending shock waves through the Left.
She was clearly pained by Mukherjee’s failure to seek her support formally for the presidency last June. She said the decision to back him was “painful and tough”, and media reports quoted her as saying: “We have decided to support Pranab Mukherjee keeping in mind the alliance we have with the Congress. In the interest of the people, democracy … we have decided to vote for him. We have not taken this decision from the core of our heart. We have no other option.”
She let her hurt hang out and spoke about Mukherjee’s inability to acknowledge her rising stature indirectly. “I don’t know what happened but we have not spoken to each other for the last eight months. The prime minister calls me up frequently. We do have conversations. I do have contacts with Sonia Gandhi. But I didn’t have any conversations with Pranabda. I don’t know why.”
Hidden in this statement is this feeling: “Look, others are treating me like an adult. But not Pranabda.”
She also said: “In 2009, we were the first party to hand over the letter of support to Pranab Mukherjee. I believe it helped him gain in stature, and also helped build his bright future.” She also made the point that Pranab never paid her a visit at Kolkata’s Writers’ Buildings.
Once again, this is the point. She is saying, “I am equally entitled to respect and recognition. Look at what I have achieved in Bengal. I am CM. But you refuse to recognise my growth in stature.”
What all this suggests is that handling Mamata needs special care. In the hurly-burly of politics, these things may not seem to matter, since everyone is talking votebanks and alliances of convenience.
In the case of the Congress-Trinamool rupture, the factor that could have pushed Mamata over the edge may not only be policy differences over diesel or FDI (these could have been haggled over), but the Congress’ inability to stop being big brother with her.
If Sonia had descended from her pedestal to woo Mamata, who knows what the result would have been? Moreover, it is clear that it is Sonia's respect she needs more than Manmohan's. So getting the PM to talk to her may not help.
The key to Mamata may be in how she is handled.