By Sushil Kutty
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi will come to a head in a couple of years, leading up to the 2024 general elections. Both are angling for the same distinction, but there’s only one slot to fill. ‘Didi’ thinks she’s the one for the course. And Rahul Gandhi believes he’s the born thoroughbred. Both reckon they can oust the twice-tested ‘Chaiwala’.
Mamata Banerjee was in Delhi on July 27, the day after she constituted an inquiry commission to probe the unfolding ‘Pegasus’ snooping scandal. She’s proud that her government is the first to order an inquiry, which the Centre should have done. Also, Rahul Gandhi should have thought up the idea and put it into play, pronto.
But Mamata is first off the block. And she’s already given the hint that she is serious-contender for Modi’s chair. Her nephew Abhishek Banerjee is on the Pegasus list of potentially surveilled politicians, and that’s reason enough for the commission of inquiry. The nephew could be the contender for Mamata’s chair if she chooses to go to a greener pasture!
Now, it doesn’t matter what Rahul Gandhi thinks, but what’s of note is that the inquiry will keep Pegasus alive in the minds of people who would vote in 2024 when the opposition parties will give it their all to oust the BJP Government and both Mamata and Rahul Gandhi would vie to become Prime Minister.
Arvind Kejriwal might be in contention for Prime Minister, but not Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati. The drift one gets is that Mayawati is angling to become a four-time Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. She also has scores to settle with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav. The move to get UP’s Brahmins to back her is another indication of what she wants.
Of course, things might change if another ‘Mahagathbandhan’ is constituted and it succeeds in turning ‘Pegasus’ and farmers’ agitation into election issues. West Bengal has shown that Modi and Shah are not invincible. They can be beaten, and driven to political oblivion.
But it will take a Mamata’ Banerjee! ‘Khela Hobe’ requires a Mamata at the helm. Besides, the lady has taken the role to heart. She indicated soon after the Trinamool won West Bengal. Within a week of the West Bengal elections, she had sent ace political strategist and close advisor Prashant Kishor to talk turkey with NCP heavyweight Sharad Pawar.
Since then, Pawar has spoken to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and others, and it appears like almost all opposition leaders have veered around to Pawar’s plan, in which Mamata Banerjee as well as the Congress figure prominently. Now, Pegasus has broken clear and, willy-nilly, opposition political parties appear to have found an issue to fight for, and join forces against the Modi regime.
And it’s a no-brainer that the Modi Government is nervous. Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s “chronology” comment and the ‘godi media’ doing everything to divert primetime debates to corner Amnesty International! Times Now’s Rahul Shivshankar and Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami translated Hebrew to Hinglish to arrive at a Modi-saving solution.
But there’s panic in the government’s ranks. And it’s at such a time that Mamata Banerjee has, by constituting a commission of inquiry, taken the wind out of the sails of the Modi-Shah yacht. Buffeted by Covid-19 and the West Bengal poll drubbing, Modi and his majordomo are in doldrums. And Mamata Banerjee has tasted blood, so to speak!
The Modi Government hasn’t reacted to the development, and mainstream media has played the whole thing down. But Mamata’s commission of inquiry is bound to spur the Centre into action. It cannot run down the inquiry, nor can it pronounce it illegal. The inquiry will keep the focus centred on the ‘Pegasus issue’, and the media focused on Mamata’s quest to become Prime Minister. Constituting the inquiry commission was a political masterstroke.
When she said that she went ahead and constituted the inquiry commission when the “Union government is sitting idle”, she upped the ante against Modi and Shah. And then she lobbed the ball high into Rahul Gandhi’s court with “we are the first state which has formed a commission on this. I hope others will come forward upon seeing our example. If someone is asleep, we have to wake them up.”
There’s no confusion on who will lead the Opposition onslaught against Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in the lead-up to 2024. Mamata Banerjee has appointed herself Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party leader, meaning she’ll chalk and chart Trinamool’s fight against the Modi Government in Parliament. While in Delhi, Mamata was to meet UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and other top opposition leaders. The Trinamool Congress has vowed to keep the Pegasus issue alive for as long as it takes to oust Narendra Modi from the hot-seat. (IPA Service)