Having won West Bengal twice -- in 2011 and 2016 -- by inflicting crushing defeats on the opposition, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee is now trying to do what Narendra Modi did with Gujarat -- sell the "Bengal model" to secure ascendance in national politics. With the entire opposition in Bengal in disarray, Banerjee's Trinamool is trying to market itself fast to emerge as a key player in Delhi. Incidentally, Trinamool, with its 34 MPs, is the fourth-largest party in the Lok Sabha, after the BJP, the Congress and the AIADMK.
"The way she has been promoting her pet socio-economic projects and harping on development, it's clear she is trying to do a Modi and plunge into the national arena selling the Bengal model," political analyst Anil Kumar Jana told IANS.n "Just as Modi marketed his tenure as Gujarat Chief Minister to the national audience, Mamata is trying the same with Bengal. An example is her recent Tripura campaign," Jana added. Trinamool recently became the principal opposition party in Tripura, as a result of desertions from the Congress.
At her maiden rally in the Marxist bastion, Banerjee highlighted Bengal's development. She made it a battle between "development" and "neglect", and gave a call for uprooting the Left Front government in Tripura. Trinamool has high aims in Tripura. Buoyed by six Congress legislators joining its ranks, party Vice President Mukul Roy camped in the state before Banerjee unleashed her volleys at the CPI-M-led Left Front regime. She came to power by ending over decades of Left rule in her own state. But the Trinamool leadership says Tripura is only a part of its national ambitions.
"It's for the whole world to see how Trinamool has changed Bengal in a matter of five years and this is why people have reposed their faith on us," Trinamool Lok Sabha member Sultan Ahmed told IANS. "Currently our focus is Tripura, but the larger plan is to play a constructive role in national politics and cobble up a strong anti-BJP front," he added. Banerjee's increased rants against the Modi government post the 2016 Bengal poll victory are being seen as a calibrated move towards that end.
"The Congress is fast losing its national relevance and the void in the opposition space is apparent. Despite the relentless attacks, Trinamool hasn't succeeded in establishing itself as anti-BJP, something which the Congress and the Left have tried to exploit," analyst and Rabindra Bharati University professor Biswanath Chakraborty told IANS. "So now she is going all out against Modi because a firm anti-BJP image is essential for her national ambitions," he added.
Banerjee's idea of a Federal Front was a non-starter in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, but that hasn't deterred her from continuing to woo leaders of secular parties. Her second swearing-in ceremony in May 2016 was graced by Janata Dal-United chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah. All three vouched for Trinamool's importance in dislodging the BJP.
Besides, Banerjee has been cosying up to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal -- the Aam Aadmi Party head who has perennially been at loggerheads with Modi -- and Nitish Kumar, who has called for a "BJP-free India". In its first annual Martyrs' Day rally in July, a host of leaders including Mukul Roy declared Trinamool's "Delhi ambitions" and exuded confidence about playing a decisive role in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
While Banerjee insisted she did not harbour any aspiration of becoming Prime Minister, she said she would help out "friends" in building an anti-BJP front. During her visit to Delhi last month, when she also met Kejriwal, Banerjee reiterated the stand that an anti-BJP political front can emerge in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election. In a marked difference from the first, Banerjee in her second term as Chief Minister has appeared assertive, looking to address several of the issues that have plagued the Trinamool, especially the proliferation of illegal syndicates.
"Having established her political supremacy, she is now stressing on good governance and has not shied away from acting against her own people," said analyst Bimal Shankar Nanda. But her handling of the Narada sting, especially ordering a probe -- now stayed by the Calcutta High Court -- to unravel the "conspiracy" behind the sting that caught several Trinamool top-notch leaders allegedly accepting bribes, may turn out to be a hot potato.
"By not acting against influential leaders involved in the Saradha scam and now the Narada controversy, the message is amply clear. It's business as usual, only the small fries will bear the brunt and not the high and mighty," said Chakraborty. Both Chakraborty and Jana observed that a lot needs to be done before the "Bengal Model" can become saleable. Opposition leaders are, however, unimpressed.
"From industry to agriculture, from healthcare to law and order, Trinamool has been a catastrophe for Bengal. Yes, Bengal is a model, but a model for extortion, corruption and anarchy," said Leader of Opposition and Congress veteran Abdul Mannan. Echoing Mannan, CPI-M MLA Sujon Chakraborty ridiculed Trinamool's Delhi ambitions and asked it to concentrate on the state which has been going from "bad to worse" under Banerjee.