Territorial Grandstand: The dog that didn’t bark
There’s a curious rule that operates in Indian politics: the popularity of a regional leader in the Delhi media is inversely related to their standing in their State. So it was in the late-1980s with Ramakrishna Hegde, then Chief Minister of Karnataka. He was the toast of the Capital’s media and was widely speculated to be a possible Prime Minister once Rajiv Gandhi’s luck ran out.
However, in 1989, at a time when the Congress suffered huge reverses all over the country, it was the Janata Dal (under Hegde and his colleague SR Bommai) that crashed in Karnataka. It was the same story with N Chandrababu Naidu in his first stint as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. He was lauded as India’s reformer extraordinary and the conscience of the NDA Government, which he extended outside support to.
He too crashed and was out of power for a decade. He returned to power earlier this year in the truncated State but has made it a point to be an infrequent visitor to Delhi.
This is a lesson that Mamata Banerjee could do well to imbibe. Last Thursday, she breezed her way through the Central Hall of Parliament, and had the hacks eating out of her hand. They loved her combativeness and her verbal duel with BJP Minister M Venkaiah Naidu.
They applauded the leadership role of the Trinamool Congress in disrupting the Rajya Sabha for over a week and preventing the normal passage of important economic legislation.
Indeed, judging by the media chatter, the West Bengal Chief Minister is now the great secular heroine battling the communal villains in the Modi-fied BJP. If the trend persists, Mamata may discover that she has outscored the Left in the Great Indian Secular League and quizmaster Derek O’Brien may discover that he has outpaced Sitaram Yechury in popularity in the watering hole of Raisina Road.
Mamata should not be denied her moment in the sun. Her small band of MPs have done a spectacular job making both the Congress and the CPI(M) dance to her tune. Earlier it was expected that the reconciled Janata parivar would constitute the ‘real’ Opposition to the BJP, what with the Congress still in ICU. However, Mamata has managed her flock with greater determination and single-mindedness of purpose. As she often showed in her long and gritty battle against the Left in West Bengal, there is nothing better than political adversity to bring out the street fighter in her.
Mamata’s spirited intervention in State politics has, quite unintentionally, brought about a measure of clarity to the confusing happenings at the Centre. In and outside the Central Hall, Mamata railed against the “dictatorial” instincts of the BJP Government. She dubbed the CBI as a pliant instrument of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. And she challenged Venkaiah Naidu to a game of street cricket – a favourite political pastime in Kolkata during seasonal bandhs.
It was, to use a Sherlock Holmes allusion, a case of the dog that didn’t bark. Mamata said many things and she was understandably upset that one of her favourite Ministers – the extremely colourful Madan Mitra – is now languishing in CBI custody and shows signs of nervous disorientation. These are her concerns for which she has brought the battle to Delhi. But nowhere did Mamata flay the Government for the Ghar Wapsi programme that secularists believe constitute the thin end of the Modi regime’s dharmayudh against Christianity. Indeed, it hardly featured in her long list of talking points against the Centre.
Mamata, it is clear, was being totally transparent. She is not particularly bothered about what some fringe elements in Aligarh and other parts of the Hindi heartland are doing – not as long as it doesn’t impact her State. Her concern was the relentless pace of the CBI investigation into the Saradha scam that has already led to two Trinamool MPs and one State Minister spending time behind bars.
She is aware of the BJP taunt that after Madan (Mitra) will come Mukul (Roy) and then, it will the chief M. Her purpose is to flex her muscle and advise Modi to call off the hounds. The conversion issue was just a ruse. It could well have been some other issue such as the failure of the Government to release all the confidential files on the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose or even a traffic accident in Delhi.
What Mamata revealed was strikingly important and quite contrary to what the Delhi media has been insisting – before the Peshawar massacre shifted focus: this is not a battle to safeguard secularism.
Arun Jaitley remarked on the curious fact that the Lok Sabha is functioning normally while the Rajya Sabha is all worked up over conversions. Is it because the Lok Sabha is disinterested in India’s secularism? Or could it be that Mamata’s troubles have come in handy for a CPI(M) that opposes all economic reforms and a Congress that believes in obstruction for its own sake?
There are many who feel that Modi should have yielded and made a statement distancing himself from the hotheads in his wider parivar. He had, after all, done so in his speech to the BJP parliamentarians last Tuesday. But would it have ended the logjam? That seems unlikely because the indignation was not really over conversions but about investigations into a scam that has cheated lakhs of small investors in eastern India. Unfortunately, that’s not a truth the media will be inclined to reveal.
Mamata has facilitated a Grand coalition of different agendas all with one end Goal: make life hell for Modi.