Mamata Banerjee's PM ambitions are clear with her meetings with Opposition leaders, remarks on Assam NRC
With her stand on the Assam NRC, Mamata Banerjee is pitching herself as the secular alternative to Narendra Modi ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In the closing week of the Monsoon Session of Parliament in 2005, Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee had shocked parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha and surprised the rest of the country with her actions. The current West Bengal chief minister, in the Opposition that year, had marched down the aisle of House and hurled a sheaf of papers at the Speaker's chair.
Mamata was angry because the then deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal, who was chairing the session, had not allowed her to raise a concern close to her heart — the matter of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in West Bengal and their existence in the state voters' list. Atwal had argued that the subject had been debated at length in the Lok Sabha only a few days ago, when she was not present in the House, and that the subject would not be discussed as per the convenience of one member alone. After expressing her anger at the deputy Speaker, Mamata had walked back to her seat, cried for a while and then announced that she was resigning as a Lok Sabha MP, not wanting to be part of a House where she was not given a chance to speak.
It's a different matter though that the then Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chaterjee, had rejected her resignation as it was not submitted in the correct format. As a senior member in the House, Mamata would very well have known that a resignation letter addressed to the Speaker ought to be submitted in only a specific format.
In 2005, West Bengal was ruled by the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance-1 had come to power at the Centre the previous year. Mamata was then an aspiring chief minister and would everything in her power to take on CPM. At that time, the TMC believed that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in West Bengal were part of the Left Front's vote bank.
Mamata was the railway minister in the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. After she resigned from the post, she quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to fight the 2001 West Bengal elections in alliance with the Congress, but the alliance had lost the polls to the Left Front. By January 2004, she had made another political somersault, rejoined the NDA and once again, become a minister in the Vajpayee government. Even though the NDA had lost the 2004 parliamentary elections and the TMC's numbers in the Lok Sabha had plunged to a measly two, it didn't deter the fighter in Mamata from vying for the chief minister's post.
Thirteen years later, the equations have changed and how. In West Bengal, Mamata decimated the Left and has ruled the state for two consecutive terms, and the BJP-led NDA is in power at the Centre but under a completely different leadership, with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah at the helm. The Congress, which had control of the central government and over a dozen states under its rule, has now been reduced to the status of a practically insignificant national rival to the Modi regime.
As an MP in 2005, Mamata had chief ministerial ambitions. Now, when she is the chief minister of West Bengal, the TMC chief is nursing prime ministerial ambitions and is not very coy about it. In the past four years, especially since the Centre announced its demonetisation decision on 8 November, 2016, she has publicly vowed to overthrow the Modi government a number of times so a "suitable" leader could take over.
Mamata seems to believe the adage on the public's short-lived memory in letter and spirit. But she doesn't realise that in the age of digitisation, it is not difficult to run a quick search of records and make that knowledge public to expose an individual's doublespeak or embarrassing U-turn on subjects of critical national importance. Mamata's actions from 4 August, 2005, in the Lok Sabha and her outrage at not being allowed to speak in Parliament on the issue of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants has come back to haunt her.
The TMC chief is now projecting herself as the biggest votary for Bangladeshi immigrants. She said that the over 40 lakh people who were excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam were welcome in West Bengal, and that she was willing to play the good host. If this does happen, these 40 lakh plus people could serve as her biggest vote bank, but this is only conjecture.
By taking this extreme stand on the Assam NRC, Mamata is pitching herself as the secular alternative to Modi ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. She has also turned the matter into an issue of communal divide.
Mamata reached Delhi on Monday to voice her concerns on the subject and ensure that she is heard with prominence. Her TMC is leading the charge in both Houses of Parliament on the NRC debate — in the Rajya Sabha, TMC leaders, along with the Congress, did not allow BJP chief Amit Shah to finish his speech, neither did they let Home Minister Rajnath Singh speak at a debate.
On Wednesday, she visited the Parliament House and also drove to 10 Janpath to meet Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. This was her first meeting with the Congress leaders after Rahul's informal interaction with female journalists, at which he had said he was willing to step back for other Opposition leaders such as Mamata and Bahujan Samaj party chief Mayawati to take up the prime minister's post after the 2019 elections. He had also alluded to Mamata's Congress-like beliefs.
The TMC chief has been making her intent to take lead in the Opposition clear. Recently, she had used Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's protest at the lieutenant-governor's home-cum-office as a pretext to claim the pole position against Modi and the BJP.
But there is one problem. As chief minister, Mamata is bound by the Constitution and a constitutional set up. Yet, she not only ridiculed the Supreme Court-mandated and monitored NRC process in Assam, but also said that excluding over 40 lakh people from the list put the country at a risk of a "civil war" and a "blood bath".
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