Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee is emerging as a major headache for other partners of the anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (INDI Alliance).
Her current opposition to Janata Dal (United)-JD(U) national president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar being made the convenor of the alliance is causing a lot of heartburn within the opposition Bloc.
Banerjee did not attend the virtual meeting of the allies Saturday (13 January), but her divisive shadow loomed large over the confabulations.
As per the informal agenda of the meeting, which was circulated in advance to the INDI Alliance, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge was to be named the chairperson of the alliance, while Nitish Kumar would be named its convenor.
Kharge’s nomination (as the alliance chairperson) passed off smoothly, but when the issue of Kumar becoming the convenor came up, the JD(U) president himself declined.
Kumar said he did not aspire for any post. But he reiterated that he had taken the lead in forging unity among the anti-BJP parties and the formation of the INDI Alliance was the outcome of his year-long efforts.
Kumar also suggested that Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president Lalu Yadav be made the convenor. But everyone present knew that Kumar’s reluctance to become the convenor stemmed from his deep grievance over Banerjee’s stringent opposition to his candidature. And also the reluctance of the other partners of the alliance to stand up for him and ask Banerjee to stand down.
Kumar is also aggrieved that he was not made the convenor right when the alliance took a concrete and formal shape a few months ago.
The reason that did not happen was because leaders of some other parties, primarily the Congress, felt this would upset other regional leaders.
They were right. Banerjee not only indicated her strong opposition to Kumar being made the convenor, she also roped in some others like Arvind Kejriwal to oppose Kumar’s elevation.
At the last meeting of the INDI Alliance in New Delhi on 19 December, Banerjee sprung a surprise by suggesting that Kharge be declared the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Bloc. She was backed by Kejriwal.
That suggestion has ultimately resulted in Kharge being made the chairperson of the Bloc. But everyone in the alliance knows that Kumar is hurt and it is important to keep him happy.
That is why it was decided at Saturday’s meeting that Kejriwal and NCP leader Sharad Pawar — both of them have warm ties with Banerjee — would speak to the Bengal Chief Minister and convince her to drop her opposition to Kumar.
But why is Mamata Banerjee so opposed to Nitish Kumar being made the convenor of the alliance?
There are three primary reasons for that:
Mamata Wishes To Lead The Alliance:
Mamata Banerjee believes she is the fiercest critic and opponent of the BJP in the country. She also believes that she has a pan-India appeal.
That is why she feels she ought to be the natural choice for the post of convenor of the alliance.
Though she has not spelt this out in unambiguous terms, it is well known that she nurses a strong desire to play a major role in the national political scene.
Nitish Kumar, as convenor of the anti-BJP bloc, would overshadow her and become a major impediment to her ‘national’ ambitions.
Banerjee also feels that she is a stronger leader than Nitish Kumar. She has told other partners of the alliance that while she currently has 22 Lok Sabha MPs, the JD(U) has 16 MPs in the Lok Sabha.
Banerjee has argued, much to Kumar’s pique, that while her party won 22 seats in Bengal in a straight fight with the BJP, the JD(U) won 16 seats in alliance with the BJP.
Banerjee, and some senior leaders of her party, told leaders of other alliance partners that the JD(U) did not win the 16 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar on its own, but because of top BJP leaders (including Modi) who campaigned for them.
That is why Nitish Kumar, according to Banerjee, does not deserve the post of convenor.
Doubts Over Nitish Kumar’s Commitment:
Mamata Banerjee had raised concerns over Kumar’s frequent political U-turns.
She had told leaders of other parties, including the Congress, that Kumar is an unreliable ally and that if it suits him, he will not think twice before joining hands with the BJP once again. To make him the convenor of the alliance would, thus, be unwise.
Kumar has earned the sobriquets of Paltu Ram and Kursi Kumar for his U-turns to remain in power.
Mamata Banerjee is reported to have told leaders of the Congress and other parties that it would be a major embarrassment for the INDI Alliance if Kumar, as the convenor of the Bloc, were to leave the alliance and team up with the BJP in future.
Banerjee’s covert campaign against Kumar received a boost after recent rumours in political circles that Kumar is once again unhappy with the RJD and may leave the ruling mahagathbandhan in Bihar.
The Eternal ‘Naysayer’:
Mamata Banerjee has, throughout her political career, been a ‘naysayer’. Those who know her very well and have worked closely with her say that her default reaction to every proposal is negative.
“She has to say ‘no’ to everything that is proposed by others. She often comes around eventually, but that happens after others put in a lot of effort. That increases her importance and she loves the attention that she gets as a result. This happens because she suffers from a deep sense of insecurity,” said a former IAS officer who served in senior positions in her first government (2011 to 2016).
Banerjee was a major headache as a constituent of the NDA under late former prime minister Vajpayee and also in the UPA under former prime minister Manmohan Singh. Both had to expend a lot of energy to make her drop her frequent oppositions to policies, initiatives and even appointments.
Mamata Banerjee’s mercurial nature, her misplaced impression that she has a lot of influence beyond the borders of Bengal, and her overarching ambition to play a major role on the national political stage has led her to oppose Kumar’s candidature for the INDI Alliance convenor’s post.
These are also factors that will, very soon, emerge as major impediments within the Bloc.
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