The hints are there, though her camp hasn’t spelt out her designs on the prime ministerial post as explicitly as Jayalalithaa’s has spelt out hers. “The Trinamool Congress will have a bigger voice in Delhi this time,” is what Mamata Banerjee has been telling voters at rallies. To supporters, she has been saying, “We will decide the next government.” All this has led to a recurring whisper among Trinamool workers: “From CM to PM.”
It is an idea that has the endorsement of Anna Hazare and the shahi imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, whom she has impressed respectively with her living style and secular credentials.
Prime minister or not, the tone of her campaign has played to a Bengali sentiment that the state should have a greater role in national politics to end alleged discrimination from Delhi in terms of economic assistance. The message she and her lieutenants have sought to spread is the Trinamool Congress will remote-control the next government. “The Trinamool Congress will hold the key for the next government to enter office,” says Mukul Roy, the party’s national general secretary.
An internal assessment has left the party targeting 30 or more seats of Bengal’s 42. It is hoping to add a couple more from the Northeast, its hopes particularly high in Manipur, and some from North India where its campaign is stronger than ever. The party will field candidates in about 10 states outside Bengal and is looking at an overall tally of 35-plus, which could make it the third largest after the BJP and the Congress.
“Our party will be in a position to drive a hard bargain with the frontrunner for government formation,” says Subrata Mukherjee, one of Mamata’s most senior ministers. “But it is difficult to foresee the exact contours of the formation. All moves and manoeuvrings will get under way after the elections.”
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The million-dollar question, however, is whether the Trinamool can ally with the BJP. A Trinamool MP who wished not to be named points out Mamata has collaborated with the BJP in the past, as have Jayalalithaa and Mayawati at various points of time.
“One can never say the BJP is untouchable to any of these three parties. It is true West Bengal’s Muslim votes are close to 30 per cent, among the highest for any state, and a large section of them are voting for the Trinamool Congress, but with Didi one can always have a rational ground to do the unpredictable and the unexpected,” says the MP.
Indeed, the BJP central leadership as well as Mamata have dropped recent hints to suggest nothing is impossible.
In the assembly last week, Mamata expressed hope of a new government in Delhi that would concede her demands of a moratorium on loan repayment (Bengal’s debt burden is Rs 28,000 crore per year) for three or four years. That is exactly the offer BJP president Rajnath Singh had made at a Kolkata rally February 5.
The Trinamool Congress has 19 MPs, its highest strength ever in the Lok Sabha, while its allies from the 2009 polls, including the Congress, have seven. The 2014 outing will be vastly different with the Trinamool confidently going it alone. The confidence of bettering 2009 stems from Mamata’s sweep to power in the assembly in 2011 and the party’s experience in three Lok Sabha and nine assembly bypolls, besides elections to panchayats and municipalities. Its vote share has been growing, with the last panchayat polls bringing it between 44 and 45 per cent against the Left Front’s 30 per cent or less. Significantly, though, the BJP’s share too has been predicted to rise from its current 3.5 per cent to an estimated 12 per cent.