As the elections near the end, Mamata Banerjee is looking increasingly distant from the goal she had set for herself — Delhi.
Fighting polls for the first time without a partner, the Trinamool Congress has seen the BJP get more and more aggressive ahead of the last two phases, and Muslims disenchanted despite Mamata’s aggressive wooing. The Saradha scam heat is now threatening to melt away her rural voters.
The target of 30 out of 42 seats that seemed a possibility even a month ago looks a hard task for the TMC. Only the hope that there won’t be a clear mandate at the Centre now sustains her kingmaker dreams. She has been claiming she will give shape to the politics in Delhi as the “third largest” political force.
Sivaji Pratim Basu, professor of political science at Naihati College, says, “The forceful attack on the Trinamool by Narendra Modi as well as other political parties, coupled with Enforcement Directorate interventions (on Saradha) may impact voting patterns. The phenomenal rise of the BJP… is a reality in urban, semi-urban centres, while Saradha may dent rural segments.” He gives the TMC 27-28 seats at best, 22-23 at worst.
While Modi’s aggression could also stem from the realisation that Mamata may not prove valuable after the polls, she too has been attacking the BJP in the last couple of weeks. She has questioned the “Vibrant Gujarat myth”. “The BJP is creating divisions among Hindus and Muslims, among Bengalis and non-Bengalis,” she says at rallies. “What Hindutva are they preaching? Aren’t we Hindus? We go for namaz and we chant from the Bhagavad Gita. You can never become a national leader only on the plank of Hindutva.”
BJP state president Rahul Sinha sees “hidden fears” in Mamata’s hostility. “Just wait for the results to see how TMC cadres in millions have switched allegiance to the BJP this election.”
Apart from the spring in the BJP’s step, the final phase has also seen the ED investigations into the Saradha scam take momentum as well as growing restiveness among Muslims over the TMC’s “empty promises”. Muslims have been openly threatening to use their votes to protest against the “highhandedness” of TMC leaders.
In the past couple of months, several TMC leaders, including former MLA Arabul Islam and sitting MP Suvendu Adhikari, have had to apologise to Muslim clerics after earning their wrath. In Bhangar, South 24-Parganas, clerics with clout among Bengali-speaking Muslims were manhandled and confined in a room after they has criticised Mamata and said they would alert the community against her. Islam tendered an apology after his men allegedly assaulted a crowd that had gone to listen to the clerics. Even religious heads were allegedly pushed around.
A similar clash was also reported at Furfura Sharif, a powerful shrine in Hooghly.
Mamata’s Delhi dreams took the first hit when Anna Hazare nipped her federal front ambitions in the bud, not turning up at a Delhi rally dubbed the “national launch” of the TMC.
CPM central committee member Md Selim says Mamata draws an analogy with failed students changing schools: “You have failed the exam at the Kolkata school and, therefore, want to migrate to the Delhi school. But that won’t work.”
TMC spokesperson Partha Chatterjee admits the TMC failed to attract partners for a federal front. However, he adds, that’s hardly a setback.
“The whole idea of having a Federal Front was based on the assumption that the 2014 polls would not throw up a clear mandate. The TMC will aggressively look for partners who can offer an alternative to both BJP- and Congress-led governments,” he says.
Mamata is learnt to have herself told aides: “The 2014 Lok Sabha polls are a postpaid affair, not a prepaid one.”