Monday, September 24, 2012

Mamata’s 19 powerful votes become 19 meek ones….

Mamata Banerjee will soon realize how drastically she has been cut to size. Her 19 MPs who mattered like they were 190 in the UPA will suddenly come crashing down to their numerical lowliness. In a 542 member Parliament, what is 19 after all? And as 19 becomes powerless, 23 and 21 will be the new power numbers to go by as Mulayam and Mayawati take over from where Mamata drops off.

They say timing is everything in politics. But what is not that well known is how important being on the “right” side is. Being on the right side gives enormous leverage; being on the wrong side can make it totally irrelevant. Mamata has switched from the right to the wrong side and the this truism will soon dawn on her.

From sitting on the high tables in the cabinet, her party is now reduced to being just another opposition party in the Parliament. In fact, its size suddenly looks puny. What must irk her even more is that her party is smaller than even her main foes, the Left parties, who commandeer 22-23 seats. And she’s even smaller than the JD (U) who has 20. Her 19 MPs don’t count for much now.

Remember also that her 19 MPs are now truly isolated and not a part of an alternate grouping. Not only are they opposed to the ruling UPA, they are as always, ideologically on the opposite side of the Left. Mamata is not welcome in the 3rd front, where the Left is the prima donna. Mamata is also on the opposite side of the BJP led NDA. Mamata doesn’t want to join the NDA, being seen as being on the same side as the Hindu brigade. She would lose the support of her Bengali muslim population. What does she do now? Sit in isolation, or maybe try and form a 4th front? But who else will join her in the 4th front? Jayalalitha and Naveen Patnaik? That’s completely impractical.

So Mamata’s trip has been well and truly taken. Everyone has conspired to make her irrelevant. The ones who have truly misled her are the BJP. When she was part of the UPA, Mamata was almost like a  representative of the BJP in the coalition. At that time, she was actively encouraged by the BJP to do their deeds. She provided the BJP with an “escape route” on many important issues. On including the Lok Ayuktas as part of the Lokpal Bill, the BJP could escape by pointing towards Mamata. On NCTC, the BJP could point towards Mamata. On FDI, they could point towards Mamata. Because, everytime the Congress proposed, Mamata would oppose, giving the BJP a convenient upper hand, pushing the Congress into policy paralysis – something that suited the BJP very well. The gullible Mamata failed to realize how the BJP was abusing her. Now she must realize how stupid she has been all along. Now that she has crossed sides and is out of the UPA, the BJP has no use of her. Mamata’s shelf life is over. She’s just another rag tag political outfit. Maybe one that can hiss……but she certainly cant bite.

The state of Bengal is likely to suffer the most as Mamata will soon realize how badly dependent she was on the Center. If she had any hopes of reviving the fortunes of Bengal, and making her government sustainable, she’s squandered that totally. Today’s papers talk about the loss to Bengal as the Railways moves away from the TMC. With CP Joshi being put in charge, there is no reason for this highly preferential treatment that Bengal got under Mamata. Mamata never realized it but she was already been solidly mollycoddled by the Congress because her 19 MPs were on the right side. Sometimes one doesn’t realize the good things in life until they are taken away. Mamata is now at that stage.

It’s a competitive market for the central government’s attention and largesse. With Bengal out of favor, there are other states that may appear politically more opportune for the Congress to tap. Bihar certainly looks attractive with the highly shrewed and pragmatic CM Nitish Kumar already making the first overtures. Nitish is shrewd because he realizes the slippery slope he is on in Bihar. People inside Bihar are not half as impressed with him as people outside the state are. Nitish is still on a strong wicket because of the TINA factor; but in politics, an upstart can suddenly emerge and upset an incumbent’s applecart. Nitish realizes that. He needs to secure himself politically. Ditching a communal BJP in a muslim-heavy state and siding with the “secular” Congress must surely give him a better story. Nitish is also pragmatic because he realizes that being macho the way Mamata was doesn’t help. It’s the people of the state who vote for the party; keeping them happy is more important that taking political potshots at the central government.

Then of course there are the Mulayams and Mayawatis whose power will suddenly increase. In any caase, they never cared too much about economic ideologies. All they care for are their narrow slivers of the electorate they call their constituency. By virtue of being nearly equally sized, both cut each other down to size. Both can easily be manipulated by the Congress. Net net, Mamata’s misadventure has ensured that the so called minority government of the Congress will survive a full term.

Just as Mamata’s 19 MPs lose their weight, the Congress’s 42 MLA in Bengal will gain some. As part of Mamata’s government, they hardly had any voice since Mamata had enough numbers on her own. But now, having crossed sides over to the opposition benches, the Congress has become the biggest opposition party. This will give it a chance to revive itself. Being the only “right of center” party in the state, it will get a chance to offer a genuine alternative to the people of Bengal for the first time. The Bengali muslims could swing to the Congress. Also, it’s my belief that after nearly four decades of Left ideologies, the aam aadmi of Bengal is looking for some more progressive thinking. A compelling argument promising more industries, more jobs, and less need to migrate out from the state could well swing the voters towards the Congress. Whatever happens, one thing is clear. The state Congress has finally found a place of its own; not having to stay limited to the shadows of a bigger daddy.

The real truth is that numbers have a strange quality about them. Numbers are just plain boring numbers by themselves. Put the numbers on the right side of the equation and they become powerful. Put them on the wrong side and they become irrelevant. Suddenly 19 will be a number that will feel very very small. DMK’s 18 will be much more powerful; and BSP and SP’s 21 and 23 massive!

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