Many asked the inevitable question after Mamata Banerjee took her fight against demonetisation to the streets of Delhi – a demonstration outside the Reserve Bank of India and a rally at Azadpur Wholesale market. Why is Mamata Banerjee in Delhi?
A party vice president spelled it out, while speaking at an election rally at Agartala in Tripura, when he predicted that Banerjee would be Prime Minister in 2019. While some of that optimism might just be electoral hyperbole, that Mamata dreams of an increased national role can no longer be doubted. Confident following a victory in the Assembly that saw her emerge with 71% majority (211 seats of 294), Banerjee now has the numbers to flex her muscle in Delhi.
WATCH VIDEO: West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal Protest Against Demonetisation
Mukul Roy’s own assessment is that TMC will emerge as the single-largest party after the 2019 general elections. He said, “Laluji and Nitishji may manage to secure 20/25 seats while BJD is likely to win 18/20 seats in the next Lok Sabha elections. DMK or AIDMK will secure 39/40 seats while Netaji or Mayawatiji may won 25/30 seats,” he predicted. He continued: “It means Trinamool Congress will emerge as the largest party after the 2019 general elections.”
Presently, TMC has 34 of the 42 seats in the Lok Sabha. If the 2016 Assembly elections are anything to go by, this number will only increase. Mamata has already made significant dents into the Congress bastion of Behrampore, Murshidabad and Malda, where their 4 seats are concerned. The Left has alleged that Banerjee is similarly wiping out their opposition in the state, breaking their ranks with “muscle or money”.
Mamata Banerjee had been attempting to hold a meeting in Delhi, wherein she would attempt to bring forth different non-Congress, non-BJP leaders, particularly Nitish Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal to galvanize a “federal front”. The issue, that she had been seeking to get leaders to unite on was that of “Modi’s gradual weakening of the federal structure of India.” But Modi’s announcement on November 8 of demonetisation, declaring that Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were illegal tender, gave her an even better plank for opposition.
Her response was immediate, declaring her opposition and the move as “draconian” (in all caps) on Twitter. Other leaders were more measured while Nitish Kumar went on to initially praise the move, while later speaking about the “inconvenience caused by the move.” On Friday, after the first problems began emerging and complaints started pouring in, Banerjee spent the day calling up different political parties – ranging from Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to the Shiv Sena leadership.
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This was Banerjee’s great political gamble. An instinctual politician, Banerjee assessed that this move – irrespective of its long-term implications – would inconvenience many poor families, traders who depended on liquid money among others. While the BJP alleges that Banerjee’s own issues with the demonetisation scheme are intrinsically linked to the “corruption prevailing within the Trinamool Congress,” a TMC leader said, “The allegation was an obvious one. BJP is saying that anyone who speaks up against demonetisation is corrupt. This was their gamble, but Didi (Mamata) called their bluff.”
Banerjee shocked many when she declared she was even willing to ally with her arch rivals, the Left. While it is unlikely that Banerjee truly expected Sitaram Yechury and the Left to ally with her, considering both have declared the other corrupt in the state for almost three decades, Banerjee did manage to push the Left into a further corner. “She has taken up an issue that is traditionally that of the Left. By reacting quickly and with more fury, she has taken the lead and is bringing forth different parties together while isolating us,” admitted a Left leader.
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Banerjee’s Delhi gambles in the past have in the past been painful. Her attempts to generate support for Abdul Kalam to run for President in 2012 ended painfully. More recently, her rally in 2014 saw Anna Hazare giving it a miss. This time Banerjee has realized that her popularity in Bengal – which becomes often cult-like in its mania – can’t be replicated in Delhi. “She wants to ensure there is opposition unity. It is not an easy thing to achieve. In fact, its the hardest thing in politics and no one knows that better than her, but with this she is trying to bring forth a platform ahead of 2019,” added the aide.