10 November: Mamata Banerjee Received Bad News On Two Fronts On The Same Day
Taking comfort in the exit polls, Mamata Banerjee was awaiting news of a crushing defeat for the NDA in Bihar elections, but she was deeply disappointed.
Wednesday, 10 November, was not supposed to have turned out the way it did for Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee.
She was eagerly awaiting news of a crushing defeat for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar just as the exit polls had predicted.
She was ready with the press releases and was rehearsing what she would tell the TV channels: that Bihar marked the beginning of the end for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and that the latter would come a cropper in Bengal next year.
Nearer home, the show of strength that a senior disgruntled Trinamool leader — Transport Minister Subhendu Adhikari — had planned at Nandigram (which pitchforked Mamata Banerjee to power) was supposed to have turned out to be a damp squib.
That’s what her loyalists had assured her. Adhikari’s rally at Nandigram would fetch very modest crowds and a parallel rally that the party (Trinamool) had organised at the same town the same day would be a mega event, they told her.
Nandigram also turned out to be a major disappointment that day for Banerjee.
Not only people from the Adhikari stronghold of East and West Midnapore districts, but even other districts like Purulia, Bankura, Jhargram, Hooghly and even Murshidabad turned up in huge numbers for his rally.
In contrast, the official Trinamool rally was a tepid affair that drew only modest crowds. The two rallies were organised to commemorate the killing of 14 people during the Nandigram stir in 2007.
As for Bihar, as Wednesday progressed and it became clear that the Mahagathbandhan would not sweep the elections as pollsters had predicted, Banerjee’s eager anticipation of a BJP defeat turned into severe disappointment.
Banerjee had, apart from getting her press releases ready and rehearsing her statements, also planned to announce that she would travel to Patna for the swearing-in of the Mahagathbandhan ministry.
She had also told her senior party colleagues that she would use the swearing-in ceremony, which she expected other opposition leaders to attend, to make another attempt to forge a pan-Indian anti-BJP front.
Banerjee had been nursing national ambitions and has been desperate to play a big role at the Centre.
That is why she organised a mega rally at Kolkata’s mammoth Brigade Parade ground on 19 January last year to which she had invited leaders of all non-NDA parties.
She hoped to lead such a political combination and become the king-maker. Or even occupy the throne herself.
At that rally in January last year, she had given a call for defeating the NDA government at the Centre. The Trinamool billed the rally as a huge success and said that Banerjee had emerged as the fulcrum of a powerful front against the BJP.
The Trinamool chief had truly believed that the NDA would face defeat in the Lok Sabha polls and had, accordingly, told her senior colleagues that she would have to devote more time at the Centre.
“She had told senior Trinamool leaders who are close to her that they would have to manage Bengal on their own as she would have to concentrate in running the government at the Centre. She had also hinted that she would be part of the government in New Delhi,” said a Trinamool insider.
A few senior Trinamool leaders had also started spreading the word around that Banerjee would become the next prime minister.
Those dreams were shattered on 23 May last year (the day the results of the Lok Sabha polls were announced) when the NDA posted a resounding victory. Banerjee was shocked and retreated into a shell, said Trinamool insiders.
This time, too, she had hoped that the defeat of the NDA in Bihar would trigger a coming together of non-NDA parties and she would play a lead role in that.
Once again, she was severely disappointed. So much so that by late Wednesday afternoon when it became clear that the NDA would edge past the Mahagathbandhan, she went into a foul mood and started snapping at her colleagues and office staff.
By Wednesday afternoon, reports of Subhendu Adhikari’s defiant speech targeting her (indirectly) also reached her, further fouling her mood.
She realised that the last-ditch efforts she had initiated to placate Subhendu Adhikari and draw him back into the Trinamool fold had failed.
Subhendu’s father Sisir Adhikari, a Lok Sabha member, had not attended the official party rally at Nandigram even though Banerjee had entrusted him with a major role in its organisation.
She realised that it was only a matter of time before the politically powerful Adhikari family— Sisir and his two sons Subhendu and Dibyendu (who is also a Lok Sabha MP) — broke ranks with her party.
That would pose a major challenge to the Trinamool in the two districts of East and West Midnapore and the neighbouring districts of Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia as well as Hooghly.
Also, the revolt by the Adhikaris would embolden other Trinamool leaders who are unhappy with her for various reasons to indulge in dissident activities and challenge her and her nephew and anointed heir Abhishek Banerjee.
The Bihar results would, she correctly assessed, boost the BJP’s morale and spur them to challenge her with renewed vigour. A defeat in Bihar would have dampened the BJP’s enthusiasm in Bengal, and that was what Banerjee was hoping for.
Apart from the NDA victory in Bihar, the news of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) bagging five seats in Seemanchal region of Bihar bordering Bengal was also deeply upsetting for Banerjee.
And when Owaisi, basking in the glory of his party’s electoral success, told TV news channels that his next target is Bengal, Banerjee knew the danger that was knocking on her door.
The AIMIM had been making inroads in Bengal over the past few years and is said to have gained considerable following in the Muslim-dominated districts of Malda and Murshidabad, as well as Muslim-majority areas of North and South 24 Parganas, Nadia and Birbhum.
The AIMIM has been telling Muslims that they are being used as convenient vote banks by the Trinamool, quite like how the Communist Party of India-Marxist or CPI(M) had also used them to hold on to power.
And that the Trinamool, like the CPI(M) before it, had done nothing for the socio-economic development of Muslims.
The AIMIM has also been telling Muslims that sops extended to the community in the form of monthly doles to imams and muezzins were meaningless and did nothing for the betterment of the community.
The AIMIM’s rallies have been attracting growing crowds and this has emerged as a major cause for concern for the Trinamool. Banerjee knows fully well that the AIMIM can severely dent her Muslim vote bank, and that can mean defeat for her at the hustings next year.
An upset and embattled Banerjee, scared of the prospect of losing power next year, spent a major part of Thursday (11 November) confabulating with her hired political strategist Prashant Kishor and some of her close aides.
What strategy she now adopts to curb dissidence within her party, beat back a resurgent BJP and counter the Brigade Parade remains to be seen.
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