By Amulya Ganguli
Two chief ministers, Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee, have severely weakened their positions at a time when the next Assembly election in their states is not far away. Yet, both started on a high note, none being more upbeat than Kejriwal.
Even after Narendra Modi’s triumph in 2014, Kerjriwal showed that the prime minister was not invincible by leading his own nascent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to a massive victory in the Delhi assembly elections, winning an unprecedented 67 out of 70 seats in 2015. Mamata Banerjee, too, performed nearly as well in West Bengal where her party, the Trinamool Congress, won 211 of the 294 assembly seats in 2016.
Both of them, therefore, could have looked forward to another easy victory after five years. But the scene for them is currently much darker. Moreover, they have no one but themselves to blame for the setbacks in their fortunes.
Kejriwal, for instance, interpreted his mandate as an endorsement of the perception which was then shared both by his party men and a fairly large section of the people that he was the man of the future.
The aura of honesty and incorruptibility which surrounded him and his mentor of those days, Anna Hazare, was behind his electoral triumph. But that image of being the knight on a white horse was his undoing.
Instead of focussing on governance, as he is belatedly doing now, he was smitten by megalomania and tried to rule his party with an iron hand by ousting possible challengers like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan.
He then picked up fights with whoever crossed his path from either the BJP or the Congress and ran running battles with Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governors – first Najeeb Jung and then Anil Baijal – as he pressed his demand for a full statehood for Delhi.
All that these antics did was to substantiate Kejriwal’s proud claim of being an anarchist. It is only recently that a palpably chastened chief minister appears to have realized the harm that he has done to himself and is trying to make amends by talking about tackling dengue and helping the good Samaritans who come to the rescue of the road accident victims.
But it is now too late. The images that remain are of him sitting on a roadside dharna in Delhi’s winter (which gave him a bad cough for nearly a year) in protest against the Delhi police and threatened to disrupt that year’s Republic Day celebrations, and observing a dharna yet again a few years later inside the Lieutenant-Governor’s residence following a standoff between the state government and the bureaucrats.
It is conduct such as these which made the former Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde call Kejriwal a “” (crazy chief minister) and seriously undermined his case for re-election.
Like Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee, too, is her own worst enemy. This is not surprising because like the AAP chief, she also runs a one-person show. Her fatal flaw stems from her past as a street fighter, who battled unrelentingly and virtually single-handedly against a then rampaging CPI(M).
It was her grit and never-say-die spirit which finally rung the death-knell of a party which had presided over West Bengal’s destiny for more than three decades. But the trouncing of the Marxists over their acquisition of fertile land for a car factory in Singur initiated a process which severely damaged Mamata Banerjee’s party.
It is the easy entry of the rowdy Marxist rank and file into the Trinamool Congress after the latter’s electoral victories in 2011 and 2016 which is responsible for her present plight when the widespread anger against the lawlessness of the Trinamool cadres has tilted the political scales in the BJP’s favour.
The tide against her seemingly turned decisively when the violent Trinamool goons ensured that their party would be runaway winners in the panchayat elections last year by scaring away most of the opposition candidates.
It is now acknowledged by a few sensible Trinamool politicians that the voters expressed their anger over being denied participation in the panchayat polls by taking advantage of the security provided by the paramilitary forces to vote in large enough numbers for the BJP to win 18 parliamentary seats, up from two, to the Trinamool’s 22, down from 34.
As a result of the saffron surge, the unthinkable may well happen in 2021 with the supposedly Left-leaning state electing a BJP government. Aware of this possibility, Mamata has changed her style of functioning (like Kejriwal) by donning a sober mask – she no longer gets down from her car to chase those shouting, Jai Shri Ram – and promising to curb the anarchy of her party men, who had been in the habit of demanding “commissions”, dubbed as “cut money”, from those buying or selling their houses or land.
She has now advised those accosted by the Trinamool activists to contact her directly – didike bolo (tell didi) – is the counsel of West Bengal’s elder sister to those harassed by her party men.
But, as in Kejriwal’s case, these corrective measures may have come rather late in the day. But she remains a doughty fighter and the BJP doesn’t have a chief ministerial face in the state. Moreover, what the effect of extending the National Register of Citizens to West Bengal will be is unclear. So, will Mamata live to fight another day or will the BJP have the last laugh? (IPA Service)