Yet another hyped exercise by Trinamool chairperson Mamata Banerjee to rally Opposition parties around her and emerge as the principal figure in the anti-BJP camp is turning out to be an embarrassment for her.
Banerjee has now told the Opposition’s ‘compromise’ pick for the President’s post--Yashwant Sinha--that he doesn't need to come to Bengal to campaign for the Presidential polls. Banerjee told him that she would “take care of things in Bengal”, and so he would be better off canvassing for votes in other states.
Sinha was the Trinamool’s national vice president till he two weeks ago after being named the ‘joint’ Opposition candidate for the President’s post.
The real reason for Mamata Banerjee’s eagerness to keep Sinha away from Bengal arises out of her fear of rubbing the state’s estimated 52.9 lakh tribals, who form about six per cent of Bengal’s population, the wrong way.
Banerjee’s discomfiture with Sinha started the moment the BJP announced the name of Droupadi Murmu as its pick for the President’s post. Murmu is a tribal, though from Odisha, and Mamata Banerjee feels that opposing a tribal woman for the country’s top Constitutional post would anger Bengal’s tribals.
The BJP had secured the support of the tribals of Bengal’s area comprising Purulia, West Midnapore and Jhargram districts and parts of Bankura and Birbhum districts in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Tribal support is decisive in the electoral outcomes of at least 35 Assembly constituencies in these districts.
The support of the state’s tribals, along with Dalits, Scheduled Castes (including ) and other Hindus who were angry over Mamata Banerjee’s blatant appeasement of Muslims enabled the BJP to bag 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal in 2019.
Mamata Banerjee has, since then, been assiduously trying to wean away the tribals from the BJP. She has announced a number of welfare measures for them and extended many sops to the state’s tribals. Her efforts have borne fruit, as was evident in last year’s Assembly polls.
The Trinamool bagged 13 of the 15 Assembly seats in West Midnapore and all four seats in Jhargram. But it could get only three of the nine seats in Purulia (the BJP bagged the rest) and four of the twelve seats in Bankura, conceding the rest of the BJP. The Trinamool also did very well in Birbhum district, bagging ten of the eleven Assembly seats of the district.
But after the electoral setback in Jangalmahal, the BJP has launched intensive efforts to woo back the tribals. And Mamata Banerjee, realising this, has also kept up her efforts to keep the tribals happy and on her side.
Banerjee is apprehensive that if she opposes Droupadi Murmu’s candidature for the President’s post, he will alienate the tribals of her state. Murmu is a Santhal, and most of the tribals in Bengal’s Jangalmahal are Santhals.
That’s why Mamata Banerjee indicated last week that she would have supported Murmu’s candidature had the BJP told her that Murmu was the NDA’s pick for the top post. Banerjee tried to deftly blame the BJP for not indicating its choice of candidate for the President’s post in good time, and that was why the Opposition picked Sinha as its candidate.
Banerjee told the media that the BJP had got in touch with her but had not told her who it would choose as its candidate. “Had I been told about it’s (the BJP’s) choice of Droupadi Murmu, I would have discussed it with other Opposition parties. The BJP never said anything and announced Murmu’s candidature unilaterally after we (the Opposition) named Sinha as our candidate,” she had said.
But that argument did not cut much ice with tribals, who are now asking why Mamata Banerjee could not have chosen a tribal as the Opposition’s nominee for the President’s post in the first place. And many are also wondering that even after the BJP named Murmu, what had stopped Banerjee from asking Sinha to withdraw from the contest.
The BJP has already launched a campaign in Jangalmahal posing precisely these questions. And it has been receiving favourable responses from the tribals, for whom ascension of Murmu to the President’s post is an emotive issue.
Aware of the dissatisfaction amongst tribals over her position on Murmu’s candidature, Mamata Banerjee is thus trying to distance herself from Sinha. That’s why she has asked Sinha to stay away from Bengal.
Sinha was scheduled to visit Bengal later this week or early next week to meet Trinamool, Congress and Left MLAs and MPs and solicit their support. He has their support--all these parties have jointly sponsored his candidature--but the canvassing is an essential formality that all presidential candidates undertake.
Had Sinha come to Bengal, Mamata Banerjee would have had to roll out the red carpet for him and felicitate him in a manner similar to how he has been received and feted in non-BJP ruled states like Telangana.
And that would not have gone down well with the tribals of the state. That’s why Mamata Banerjee, an astute politician, has told Sinha that he need not visit Bengal.
Banerjee hopes that by not appearing to support Sinha very publicly while at the same time speaking well of Droupadi Murmu, she will be able to keep the tribals happy. But her tightrope walking may not work because of the fact that Jangalmahal is resonating with the demand that Banerjee withdraw support to Sinha and declare her support for Murmu.
But Banerjee will find it impossible to do that. She will lose face in the Opposition camp if she withdraws support to Sinha, who was a leader in her own party till very recently. Other Opposition parties will not agree, and she will lose their trust.
And her image as a fearless crusader against the BJP will also suffer with the Congress and the Left sure to lampoon her and allege a secret BJP-Trinamool understanding if she asks her MLAs and MPs to vote for Murmu instead of Sinha.
Mamata Banerjee had, once again, tried to position herself as a ‘national leader’ by taking the lead in rallying non-BJP parties to prop a candidate to take on the BJP’s nominee for the President’s post. But the BJP has, very adroitly, check-mated her.
Sinha’s candidature has, truly, become an albatross around Mamata Banerjee’s neck.
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