Kolkata/New Delhi: Addressing a large rally opposing demonetisation on Monday, Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief, made a strong claim: “Today, I am taking a pledge, whether I die or live, I will remove PM Modi from Indian politics.”
Though among the first politicians to line up against the withdrawal of Rs1,000 and Rs500 currency notes, the intensity of Banerjee’s remarks came as a surprise—other parties, including the Congress, though opposed to it had not made it so personal.
“They (the government) are depriving us of our constitutional rights. Shops are closed, farmers are distressed, households are facing problems. Labourers in the unorganized sector are out of work while food production has stopped. Productivity is at a standstill,” she added. The obvious question then is why is Banerjee so worked up, something the country witnessed last when she engaged in a do-or-die battle to oust the Left from power in West Bengal.
One claim gaining ground is that Banerjee is looking for a role in national politics, especially since she is proposing to take out public rallies in the election-bound states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
It is also a fact that with 34 MPs, the TMC is the third largest group in the Lok Sabha after the BJP and the Congress, which has 44 seats.
“She is now looking to establish herself in people’s minds as the consensus leader in a divided opposition who can lead the fight. She is convinced that demonetisation is the biggest issue till the 2019 general election,” said a close aide of Banerjee, who did not wish to be named.
Understandable, because ever since Congress failed to be named the leader of the opposition—as they couldn’t win the required 54 seats—no party or individual has emerged to claim the mantle of challenger to the BJP, which leads the National Democratic Alliance.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is seeking to replace the Congress as the BJP’s principal challenger in the north, has also tried to stake claim; a lot will depend on how AAP does in the upcoming assembly elections.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who also leads the Janata Dal (United), was being seen as the likely challenger to Modi in the 17th general election due in 2019. However, he has lined up behind demonetisation, making it difficult for the opposition to forge a common front—serving up a platform for Banerjee.
Calling it a “draconian step,” TMC has demanded that the centre roll back demonetisation. On Tuesday, Banerjee reiterated her charges against the PM at a rally in Lucknow.
Interestingly, Banerjee will hold her next rally in Patna on 30 November.
Analysts say Banerjee is trying to destabilize the Modi government, but not to fulfil her personal ambition.
“Mamata Banerjee does not want to immediately shift her focus from West Bengal to the centre. TMC has performed well in the last two state elections and this is the time to bring the state right on top. The aim behind all the nationwide protests is to destabilize Modi, if there is any way to do that at all. She is challenging the centre without linking her personal ambition to the cause. This decision has led to millions of people suffering in the country and she wants to bring the common man’s hardships to the limelight and use them against the government,” said professor Bonita Aleaz who teaches political science at University of Calcutta.