Mamata kick-starts rally season in Bengal (West Bengal Newsletter)
Even before the announcement of dates, rival political parties in West Bengal have sounded the bugle for the coming Lok Sabha polls by organising mass rallies at the city's sprawling maidan - the traditional venue for huge gatherings over the years.
While the ruling Trinamool Congress set the ball rolling with party chief Mamata Banerjee addressing a huge turnout at the Brigade Parade Ground Jan 30, the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial aspirant Nerandra Modi is set to hold a meeting at the same spot on Wednesday. Not to be left behind, the opposition Left Front has convened a rally there Feb 9 when it is likely to unveil its political strategy for the general elections.
The Congress, passing through tough times following continuous desertions from its ranks to the Trinamool and a series of poll setbacks in the state, has not scheduled any rally at the Brigade Ground so far. But the party organised a hunger strike in the city to press for its long-standing demand to set up an All India Institute of Medical Sciences-type facility at its stronghold Raiganj in North Dinajpur district, besides holding other political programmes.
For Banerjee, the Brigade Ground rally was an opportunity to pitch for a national role for her party as also for herself in the post-poll scenario, which -
going by the recent opinion polls - is likely to land the country into the lap of another coalition experiment.
None of the surveys done by various media houses and expert organisations have predicted a clear majority for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance has fared poorly, with some of the surveys saying it may land up with around 100 seats. The magic figure in the Lok Sabha for government formation is 272.
In such a scenario, Banerjee feels the regional parties could play a crucial role in cobbling up the next government. Last year itself, Banerjee had proposed the setting up of a federal front of regional parties, but has now seemingly reconciled to the fact that such a combination could see the light of day only after the polls, and in the event of neither of the two major coalitions coming close to a majority.
There is no denying the fact that after winning power in West Benggal in 2011, and consolidating her position over the last two years and nine months with a series of impressive electoral performances, Banerjee now nurses national ambitions.
She made clear her intent by claiming - howsoever hyperbolic it may seem to the opposition and the political pundits - that the Trinamool was the only alternative to the Congress and the BJP, as she called for a "poribortan" (change) at the national level.
"We need poribortan in Delhi. We want to give this call from Bengal: What Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow. Bengal will show the way," she added, coining the slogan 'Remove Corruption, Save India'.
"We want good governance, we want rule of law and a united India. We want a pro-people government. For that we need a federal front comprising powerful states," she said, as she announced her desire to campaign outside Bengal for the coming polls.
"We need to be stronger in Delhi. The more Lok Sabha seats we win, the greater (will) be our importance," she said.
The calculation is if her party wins a good majority of the 42 seats in West Bengal, and emerges with the highest number of seats among regional parties in the event of a hung parliament, the Trinamool could play a central role in government formation. It would also help her to secure funds and other central assistance to give sops to the people and carry out her big plans
for the state.
However, she also kept open the avenues of forging ties with the Congress and the BJP in the post-poll situation. She never attacked Modi by name, though her comment that the Trinamool did not want "the face of riots in government" is being interpreted by political observers as an attack on the Gujarat chief minister. Similarly, she never mentioned Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, but her call for ending "monarchy" seemed targeted at the Gandhi scion.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 01-02-2014)