If a prize is instituted to honour politicians hurling the greatest insults and meanest abuse at opponents during the 2019 general elections, Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi are bound to be adjudged joint winners.
The attacks and counter-attacks became intensely personal as the battle for West Bengal intensified with each phase of polling. The PM and the CM stooped low revealing what a toxic cesspool election-time politics is. But Mamata punched above her weight and fired verbal volleys at Modi which will reverberate long after the dust settles and the situation becomes calmer.
Shaming and slamming Modi helped Mamata polish her credentials as a top Opposition leader and position herself in the forefront of national politics. She hogged the limelight by relentlessly attacking Modi – the biggest newsmaker of them all!
Her stock rose and rose as she tore into Modi. Notably, Opposition leaders of all hues cheered her lustily from the sidelines during the unrelenting war of words. All this will pay Mamata rich dividends in the post-poll scenario, especially if the BJP-NDA falls short of numbers and the game of thrones plays out in Delhi.
Modi called Mamata a tolabaz – Bengali slang for extortionist – and ‘speed-breaker’ accusing her of impeding Bengal’s development. He also branded her ‘Sticker Didi’ insinuating that she is adept at passing off central assistance and poverty alleviation schemes as hers by simply renaming them. Modi declared that Mamata is hand in glove with the coal mafia and thundered that her life’s mission is to protect her “corrupt” nephew, Abhisekh Banerjee, from the CBI and the ED. The PM accused Mamata of not taking his telephone calls and screamed that she had even threatened to slap him!
Mamata clarified that she had said the “slap of democracy” awaited Modi. “I would never personally slap him as I don’t want to touch that man,” she explained to her flock from the dais, wireless microphone in hand. But she called Modi “ex-PM”, “liar”, “dangabaz”, “Hitler”, “drenched in blood from head to foot” and “a bad influence on the country’s youth”. She also raked up a subject most Modi critics studiously avoid: Modi’s estranged wife Jashodaben!
As the level of political discourse plummeted and the Election Commission turned a blind eye to Modi’s and Amit Shah’s utterances, Mamata was in her elements declaring repeatedly that if a man can’t look after his own wife, he is clearly incapable of looking after a nation. Mamata’s Jashodaben-related taunts cut Modi to the quick but he had to brazen it out as he has no answers. Mamata seems to have also inspired Mayawati to lash out at Modi for deserting his “innocent” wife, provoking Arun Jaitley to take up cudgels on behalf of his speechless boss.
In many ways, Mamata has emerged as the vivacious voice of the opposition she is courting and wooing to unite come what may to stop Modi from capturing power again. In the last three months, Mamata has befriended practically every non-BJP bigwig: Chandrababu Naidu, Akhilesh, Mayawati, Stalin, Lalu Prasad, Jagan Mohan, KCR, Sharad Pawar, Sharad Yadav, Deve Gowda and his son. It helps that none of them have a political stake in Bengal. So, there is no competition - only collaboration to ensure that no single party becomes the axis of power.
It seems that Mamata game-plan is to install a government of regional parties with the backing of the Congress party after May 23. Of course, this is possible only if the Congress tally is less than 100. If the Congress wins around 125 seats, it would naturally expect non-BJP parties to support it. Mamata tried her best to forge a pre-poll alliance but failed. She is nonetheless confident that a post-poll alliance will work beautifully if BJP-NDA fares worse than the opposition parties.
Even as Mamata badly wants the Third Front to capture power, she would easily fit into a Congress-led regime too. Mamata has problems with the Congress in Bengal; she somehow believes that the Congress and the CPI(M) are backing the BJP in the Trinamool-ruled state. But at the national level, she is on excellent terms with Rahul and Sonia. She owes her rise in politics to Rajiv Gandhi and has always sprung to his defence. She lambasted Modi for his latest anti-Rajiv remarks. Moreover, Rahul Gandhi holds her in high esteem regardless of a few anti-Mamata or anti-Trinamool remarks while campaigning for Congress candidates in Bengal.
The possibility of Mamata becoming the Prime Minister in a Third Front government does exist, especially if Trinamool wins more seats than in 2014. She, of course, refuses to speculate if she would be the next PM. All that she says is: “We have a lot of PM candidates and somebody will be the PM. We will take the decision after sitting together. It will not take much time to select a candidate.”
The Mamata-Modi and Trinamool-BJP face-off has catapulted Didi to the epicentre of national politics and boosted her prime ministerial prospects.
A week before D-Day, Mamata is brimming with confidence under a blazing sun. Asked if she sees herself as the game changer, she ducks the question but remarks: “Many people think that Modi will come back. But I know that this time Modi will be overthrown, and a new government will be formed.”
(The author is a prize-winning investigative journalist and commentator)