The Mamata phenomenon

She should move to the national stage and gather all regional satraps

The Mamata phenomenon

Off the mark: Narendra Modi and Amit Shah concentrated on ‘freeing’ Bengal from Didi’s grasp, with tragic consequences. Reuters

Julio Ribeiro

Mamata Banerjee is back on her feet! We had become accustomed to associating her with a wheelchair. But as soon as it became apparent that her party’s victory in Bengal’s Assembly elections was a ‘thumping’ one she sprang to her feet, to the delight of her supporters in her state and this writer in Mumbai!

What mattered most to people like me was that a predominantly Hindu electorate rejected the BJP’s persistent efforts to polarise the voters on communal lines. At every meeting and rally organised by the “party with a difference”, cries of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ rent the air! Appeals to religious sentiment floundered!

The Election Commission of India (ECI), whose duty it is to ensure that religion is not used for gathering votes, did punish Mamata when she appealed to Muslims not to split their votes lest the BJP gains but failed to penalise the blatant misuse of the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan by the BJP from the start of the electioneering.

But before I proceed further, I beg to tarry a while to apologise to recently retired CEC Sunil Arora for presuming that the story about his being nominated as the Governor of Goa was true! It was first printed in the Free Press Journal of Mumbai and taken up in a big way by social media. Many users of Facebook and Twitter in Goa were convinced that the news was true. It had not been contradicted, though the news was floating for more than a week.

When informed by the Editor of

The Tribune that Sunil Arora had issued a clarification and a denial, I phoned Mr Arora and apologised. That is the decent thing to do when one errs, even though the mistake was genuine and no offence or malice was intended.

I heard poll strategist Prashant Kishor on television. He had predicted that the BJP would not get more than a hundred seats. It won only 77! And that despite the Herculean efforts it made over a period of many months and over eight polling phases as demanded by the party from a compliant ECI. Kishor is convinced that the BJP tally would have been much less if the ECI were true to its salt. He was convinced that the ECI behaved like an adjunct of the BJP, like sections of the media, the investigative agencies, the enforcement agencies and, unfortunately at times, the judiciary!

With all these forces stacked against her and with the redoubtable Amit Shah concentrating most of his attention on Bengal, visiting each and every district, some even more than once, Didi single-handedly sliced through the attack and won!

Suvendu Adhikari, once her right-hand man in the TMC, defeated her by a minuscule margin in his family’s pocket constituency of Nandigram. She nearly succeeded. That alone was quite a feat because the Adhikaris were the undisputed cocks of the walk in Nandigram. Personally I do not consider Mamata’s loss as significant. On the contrary, she should build on the fact that she bearded the lion in his own den and nearly laid him low.

My view is that she should now leave the state to one of her more capable lieutenants like Mahua Moitra, for instance, and appear like a phoenix on the national stage, gathering all the regional satraps together to present Modi with a formidable Opposition in his own new Central Vista. Indian democracy will become really vibrant if Modiji and Amit bhai are not allowed to take the people for granted, like they have been wont to do.

Some years ago, RSS ideologue Dattatreya Hosabale, who recently replaced Bhaiya Joshi as the Sangh’s General Secretary, had talked about a clean sweep of all states of the Union by the BJP so that the RSS dream of cultural uniformity in Hindu Rashtra would be turned into reality. Didi has put paid to this grandiose scheme. It is she who rules Bengal, as MK Stalin does in Tamil Nadu and Pinarayi Vijayan in God’s Own Country.

Each of these regional satraps has his own ego. He or she should be allowed to nurse that ego in his own individual lair. To move on to the national stage, he or she will be welcome to do so if he or she wins the respect and approval of his or her counterparts like Mamata Didi has done after slaying Goliath in Bengal.

If there were a concerted and united opposition to Modiji, it would have pounced on his tendency to embrace megalomania, apparent in his speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year. Modiji really believed he had vanquished the coronavirus single-handedly in India, even as it raged in the economically advanced countries of Europe and America! The never-ending dollops of praise showered on him daily by assorted sycophants had affected his judgement!

He disregarded the voice of science and scientists who had anticipated a second and even a third wave. He and his friend Amit bhai concentrated instead on ‘freeing’ Bengal from Didi’s grasp, with tragic consequences.

The countries he preached to have sportingly come forward to forget his vain boasts and rush medicines, vaccines, oxygen and other help to an India reeling under a catastrophe resulting from undue praise that had gone awry.

International criticism has been intense and consistent. The Economist of London, The Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Time magazine have all castigated us for failing to see the writing on the wall and reposing blind faith in the invincibility of our leader. The desi commentators of the liberal variety have not spared Modi for his wrong priorities of pursuing the goal of “one nation, one culture”, ignoring the imperative of people’s lives. From whatever gossip we hear, Modi’s popularity has taken a severe beating.

I have no doubt he will recover lost ground but I do hope he gives up the RSS-inspired dream of a Hindu Rashtra with a homogenous culture which is impairing his natural abilities to lead.

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