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Tussle between the Congress and Mamta Banerjee – what next ?




It all seems so sudden. The increase in tension between these allies (and they have been allied for a very long time now in some way or the other) is very sudden, and confusing to a number of political observers. After all, it was a match made in heaven. The mercurial state leader, Mamta Banerjee, who was in the Congress many years previously, has always had a prime mission to remove the Communist Parties from their tight grip on West Bengal politics, the same target as the Congress, but much more focused. In the past few years, it became clear that Mamta Banerjee was going to be the main driver of the movement to oust the Left from the Writer’s Building in Kolkata, and as a result, the Congress was always going to be playing second fiddle.
Now the way that the Congress is used to its allies is that the Congress lets them take the lead in the states (or rather, the allies make it clear that since almost all of them are state level parties, they take the lead in the state), and then the Congress depends on them for support in the Central Government, and the allies really don’t rock the boat too much. Parties such as the DMK, the RJD, the NCP, or other state allies have always worked on this formula. They do not rock the Congress at the national level or cause any amount of embarrassment.

Well, the TMC or Mamta have never worked on this formula before. Mamta has a game plan whereby she is as socialist as the Left parties which she defeated, and believes in a high degree of populism; and will not stand for anything that gets in the way of her plan. Further, she has to make her base in the state more concrete, so needs to ensure that the Congress does not develop any kind of spine in the state of Bengal. For this purpose, a series of hard steps are needed, and that is what the TMC is delivering. She knows that the Samajwadi Parties and the BSP are both currently against the Congress because of the need of the Congress to gain a stronger vote base in Uttar Pradesh, and a significant part of the gain of the Congress would come at the expense of the support base of these 2 parties.
So, Mamta has decided to show that the Congress that she will not buckle down, and what better way than to play hard ball. What is hardball ? Causing the Congress great embarrassment over the Lokpal Bill, block the policy of 100% FDI in retail, stop an international agreement with Bangladesh over the Teesta river water sharing, all of which could be portrayed as to the benefit of sections of the population, and also to the benefit of the people of West Bengal.
The latest push of Mamta Banerjee is over the renaming of the former home of Jyoti Basu, which is currently named after Indira Gandhi. When this proposal came through, the Congress was shocked, since even the BJP has not bothered to rename any of the Congress named institutions. And yet, all the protests that the Congress has made, including the usual scheme of letting the state leaders spew much more anger than the central leadership (so that there is deniability from the central leadership) have not worked. Mamta’s men and even Mamta have dared the Congress to go it alone, throwing back all the statements to the Congress.
What will happen next ? The Congress is not sure about its position, and with Mamta having 18 MP’s, it cannot take a chance. It will have to buckle down and sue for peace, and today, there was a news item about the Congress reaching out to Mamta to try and tone down the level of discord (and ignoring the recent statements linking the TMC to the Left parties and to the BJP). In the state, the Congress cannot apply any level of force, since the TMC has a majority of its own, and it cannot stoke any dissension in the TMC either (the TMC like many other parties are primarily dependent on one individual). So, the Congress will make peace.




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