Mamata Banerjee Is Feeling The Heat

An aspiring prime ministerial candidate, Didi faces a tough battle in Bengal. And the tension is showing

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has started poaching Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders and outgoing MPs. Senior leaders of the saffron brigade, including some high-profile Union ministers, had approached the Election Commission of India, demanding that it declare Bengal as “super-sensitive” ahead of Lok Sabha elections.

The election schedule shows Bengal is going to have an unprecedented 7-phase poll. TMC chief and Prime Minister-aspirant from the Mahagathbandhan, Mamata Banerjee, is now feeling the heat.

She has publicly acknowledged that it was going to be tough fighting the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo. The tension shows in her candidate list.

Many found a “surprise element” when she fielded two leading Bengali actors – Nusrat Jahan and Mimi Chakraborty – apart from Moon Moon Sen for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Moon Moon is an outgoing TMC MP from Bankura but her seat has been changed this time.

While the presence of the other two “stars” carries a surprise element, the strategy does not. This has been an old tactic of Mamata. Wherever she has sensed trouble with intra-party factionalism, she has fielded an apolitical person, preferably a film star.

She has done it before. She has done it again. The surprise element, if any, lies in the fact, that the number of apolitical candidates has gone down significantly in her candidate list this time.

She has brought in six sitting MLAs, including two ministers, and a Rajya Sabha MP, to fill up the list. Some of the MLAs had earlier switched over from the Congress to the TMC. In seats like Beharampore, considered a fortress of former state Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury, Mamata is relying on one-time Adhir aide and sitting MLA Apurba Sarkar.

In 2014, she had nominated singer Indranil Sen (now a minister in the Bengal government), whose only qualification was that he was close to the chief minister.

Mamata’s desperation was also apparent at the press conference, where she paraded outgoing MPs who were denied tickets. She gave clarifications for each seat where she was denying renomination to the sitting MP and other “deserving” leaders of her party. This is unprecedented. Never before has Mamata had to clarify why she was denying nomination to a leader.

Mamata’s main concern is the BJP’s attempt to poach on disgruntled TMC leaders and put them up as Lok Sabha candidates. Though the BJP could not build a strong grassroots-level organisational structure, it is depending on the wave of support for the party, an undercurrent of which was evident after the post-Pulwama surgical strikes, and, of course, on break-away TMC leaders.

Her aim is to win as many seats as possible in the Lok Sabha elections, to stake claim in national politics. If she loses the battle against the BJP, which has emerged as the main Opposition in Bengal, she will not only lose national importance but also have a tough time saving her kingdom before the next Assembly elections in 2021.