Mamata Banerjee on her visit to meet Sonia Gandhi | Photo: PTI
Human beings create history. The words of Thomas Fuchs, the German philosopher who wrote 'In Defence of the Human Being', could be recalled here: "The more the idea of AI as a supposedly superior form of analysis, prediction, and evaluation becomes established, the more likely it will be forgotten that decisions, with all their imponderables, can ultimately only be made by humans. Responsibility is no technical category; it cannot be passed on to artificial systems." Whatever be done should be done in time. When people and parties keep away from accepting such responsibilities the results will be fatal. Jyoti Basu, former CM of Bengal and CPM leader, termed this inactivity as a 'historical blunder.' Basu missed the premiership of India in 1996 between the cup and the lip. When asked by Shekhar Gupta years later, Basu responded that he was still sticking to his stand.
Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the then general secretary of CPM, supported the Congress' decision to make Jyoti Basu the PM of India. But the hardliners including Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury turned the tables on Basu. CPM had only 32 MPs in the parliament then. The majority of the central committee was of the opinion that if Basu was made the PM, then the party would have to compromise on many grounds since it didn't have any decisive presence in the parliament. When CPM voted against the move by Congress, Surjeet got upset and he offered to resign from the post of the general secretary. Basu himself had to use all his charms to refrain Surjeet from taking the extreme step. CPM has never come face to face with such a historic moment ever after.ight now another party in India is standing face to face with such a historic moment. It is none other than Congress, the grand old party of the nation. Both history and time are intensely looking at Congress at a time when BJP led by Modi is aiming for a third consecutive term at the centre. The question is whether Congress shall support Mamata Banerjee who is getting ready to stop the chariot of Modi & Co at this critical juncture.If Congress is ready to extend an offer to Mamata similar to the one to Basu 25 years ago that would definitely be historic by all means.
It was after the 96 Lok Sabha elections that Congress decided to make Basu the PM. Congress had won 140 seats in that election. BJP got 161. Congress took a stand that the party wouldn't form the government since it had no absolute majority and would extend outside support to the United Front that excluded BJP. Quite often an alliance faces the polls without a PM candidate. But 2021 is not 1996. The BJP of Modi and Shah is not the same as that of Vajpayee and Advani. BJP made the last two Lok Sabha elections a national presidential type contest. Who is the alternative to Modi?This is the question that BJP raises. And Congress' response was Rahul Gandhi. This alternative could only win 44 seats in 2014 and 52 in 2019. Rahul Gandhi, who quit the Congress president's post immediately after the 2019 elections, is not holding any organizational responsibility within the party right now.
Alternative to Modi
The 23 dissident leaders, who demanded a full-time functional president for the party, had the realization that Congress must present an alternative to Modi. Sonia responded to this demand making it clear that she was there as the president of the party. But that is not an answer to the question on Modi's alternative. This is where Mamata's entry matters. Modi came to the central fort of India's power structure after being the CM of Gujarat for 12 years. He had the blessings of RSS in that journey which saw the decline of L K Advani, who was nicknamed the 'Loh Purush' of Indian Politics. Despite the severe setbacks in the economy, Modi could retain power in the last Lok Sabha election. But that invincible image was torn into pieces in the last Bengal elections. Modi had not gotten himself involved so fully in any other recent elections. Amit Shah, the man Friday of Modi boasted that BJP would capture more than 200 seats out of the 294 seats in the Bengal assembly. Mamata took on the Modi-Shah combo with the slogan ‘Khela Hobe’ (the game is on) and had a spectacular win.
Now Mamata's goal is Red Fort, the nucleus of power politics in India. Mamata wrote in Jago Bangla, the mouth organ of TMC, that the nation is calling her party. ''Congress has failed to resist BJP nationally. That is the reality. There is a vacuum in Delhi's political landscape that is scary.'' Mamata aims at filling this vacuum. She expected that Congress would support her in this battle. When she came over to Delhi last July after the Bengal elections she called on Sonia Gandhi and Rahul. Prasant Kishore, the political advisor of Mamata had also many rounds of discussions with the Congress leadership. But it seems that the Congress leadership has failed to notice the writings on the wall. The Congress leadership now sees Mamata as a threat and Prasant Kishore as a trojan horse.
Mamata, the street fighter
Mamata is basically a street fighter. The political observers in Bengal do still remember a protest that Mamata led in January 1993. Jyoti Basu was the then CM of Bengal. Mamata led the protest against the Bengal government by sitting in front of the CM's office. Basu was not in his office when Mamata started the dharna. He had gone home for lunch. On his way back to the office, senior police officers informed Basu about Mamata's protest. They requested him to rest in the Raj Bhavan guest house till the melee was over. But Basu refused to budge. He told the officers categorically that if he was the CM he would go to the CM's office.
Manesh Gupta was then the Chief Secretary of Bengal. He himself came to the scene to get Mamata removed from the secretariat. Police grabbed Mamata by her hair and dragged her out of the office. Mamata took a pledge then and there. It was similar to the oath that Jayalalithaa had taken four years back. Jaya had declared in 1989 when she was assaulted by the DMK members in the assembly that she would return there only as the CM. Mamata scribbled it in the heart of her hearts that she would be the CM of Bengal one day.And she fulfilled it in 2011. Manesh Gupta, who led the operation to remove her from Basu's office in 1993 is now a member of TMC. Mamata fielded him in the Jadavpur assembly constituency in 2011 against Budhadeb who was the then CM of Bengal.
Mamata sat in dharna against the CBI's move to arrest Kolkata Police Chief Rajiv Kumar. Mamata was of the opinion that CBI couldn't interfere in a state without prior consent. When the central government wanted to move Alapan Bandyopadhyay, who was the Chief Secretary of Bengal, to Delhi, Mamata again intervened. The central government was hellbent on punishing the CS for boycotting the PM's meet which was called in the wake of cyclone Yaas. Alapan resigned from the post of the CS protesting against the move. Mamata challenged PM Modi in the press meet that she held on that day in Kolkata: "Are they bonded labourers? There are many Bengali cadre officers at the centre. Can I recall them without consultation, Mr Prime Minister? Mr busy PM, Mr Mann ki baat PM?" Mamata exposed the core undemocratic nature of the Modi government by calling him ‘Mr Mann ki Baat PM’.
Congress support crucial
It goes without saying that Mamata is the sharpest weapon in the hands of the opposition to counter Modi. All the leading figures in the opposition line up including Arvind Kejriwal, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Sharad Pawar can't match the vigour and charisma of Mamata. Right now, Mamata is the only opposition leader who has a great rapport with each and every other opposition leader across India. She could ring up and start a dialogue with M K Stalin, Naveen Patnaik and Jagan Mohan anytime anywhere. She is also very close to Sharad Pawar, the Maratha strongman.
But if Mamata should make any headway in her fight against Modi she needs the support of Congress. One swallow doesn't make a summer. She might have had a spectacular victory in Bengal, but that doesn't necessarily mean she would be able to replicate the same across India.She won't be able to capture Indraprastha without the support of Congress even if she wins all the 42 seats from Bengal. Congress is still the major opponent of BJP at least in 200 seats. And it is precisely here that Congress should be ready to take a realistic decision. The Lok Sabha election in 2024 will be historic for Congress. If Modi and BJP make it to the centre for a third consecutive term, Congress may not be able to overcome the deadly impact.
Congress can surmount Modi and BJP only by forming a mega alliance of all the opposition parties. Congress must be ready to sacrifice if this alliance has to be a reality. The successful experiment that has been carried out in Maharashtra is very much there before Congress. The party must recall that it had to hand over the premiership to Chandrashekar in 1990, to Deve Gowda in 96, and to Gujral in 97. Congress should ensure that Mamata is part and parcel of the opposition line up rather than pushing her out into hostile territory.
Mamata has opined after her meeting with Sharad Pawar that there is no UPA as of now. She has also exhorted for a new alliance of opposition parties. Congress must take these words as the right premises for introspection. It is a fact that UPA is not operational right now. UPA has not been convened even for once after the 2014 Lok sabha election. Both Sonia and Rahul have been calling the opposition parties' meet under the banner of Congress. When Mamata speaks of a new opposition alliance it doesn't mean that she is batting for a Congress mukth formation. Mamata is not a naive politician to imagine an opposition lineup sans Congress. Sonia should bring in Mamata as the PM candidate of this greater opposition configuration.
When Swamy praises Mamata
It won't be an easy decision for Congress to offer the premiership to Mamata. The party rank and file may not be able to digest the decision that the UPA's PM candidate is not going to be from the Nehru family. But the price Congress will have to pay for the delay in taking this decision will be really heavy with every passing moment. If Congress takes stock of the number of leaders it has lost to TMC these days it will have clarity about the scheme of things. Congress must ask why it has lost Sushmita Dev, the Mahila Morcha leader, Luizinho Faleiro, the former CM of Goa, Ashok Tanwar, the Dalit leader from Haryana and Kirti Azad. The fact that its 12 MLAs out of 17 in Meghalaya have joined TMC must act as an eye-opener. Congress may ignore the entry of BJP leader Yashwant Sinha and Janata Dal leader Pavan Varma into the camp of TMC, but it will be suicidal if the party pretends not to see Subramanian Swamy joining hands with Mamata.
Swamy has equated Mamata with JP, Morarji Desai and Chandrashekar - some of the most significant leaders of independent India. Swamy had watched these leaders from close quarters. Swamy has also to his credit the history of bringing down the Vajpayee government years ago with the support of Sonia and Jayalalithaa. Mamata must be knowing that Swamy is a double-edged sword. Swamy's Rajya Sabha term will come to an end in the coming April. If everything goes as per plan, Swamy will re-enter the parliament as Mamata's man. The hatred between Vajpayee and Mamata was well known. Vajpayee refused to make Swamy the Finance Minister in his cabinet in spite of the pressure from Jayalalithaa. There is not that kind of a gap between Modi and Swamy. Still, Modi too kept away from inducting the best available resource person in economics in BJP into his cabinet.
The meeting between Swamy and Mamata is a timely warning to Congress. If there is a person whom Sonia detests to the core, it is Swamy. If Mamata is getting ready to accommodate Swamy into her base that means the wall between Mamata and Congress is getting thicker and thicker. The fire fighting brigades of Congress must step in to control this alarming situation. Ahmed Patel was Sonia's chief troubleshooter. He was the person who Sonia could turn towards in any moment of crisis. Sonia should be missing Patel very much these days. It seems Sonia is relying on her children Rahul and Priyanka in the absence of Patel. It's only natural that one turns more and more towards one's kids as one gets older. But Sonia should have the political wisdom to foresee that many of the dissident leaders among G-23 will leave her if Mamata is not there in the Congress camp.
Mamata had an interaction with some of the intellectuals and social activists including Medha Patkar, Javed Akhtar, Swara Bhasker and Munawar Faruqui in Mumbai after her meeting with Swamy. Those who accuse her of dictatorial tendencies must watch the video of this programme. Swara asks Mamata what she would do on UAPA, the draconian law, if she comes to power. And Mamata's stand is crystal clear on this issue: ''UAPA will never be used against ordinary people.'' Then she goes on asking some of her Bengali friends sitting among the audience if they remember any such cases in Bengal. No one is able to recollect any specific instances of misusing UAPA in Bengal. When Swara, Munawar and Medha declare that they would be with Mamata in the fight against fascism it also indicates that Mamata knows where to draw the line with personas like Dr Swamy.
Mamata as Arjun, Rahul as Krishna
Congress will have to win at least 100 seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections if it wants to retain relevance in national politics. The only way out for this is the formation of a grand formidable alliance of the opposition parties. And the only leader who can unify opposition leaders cutting across party lines is Mamata. Congress should capitalize on this social and political capital of Mamata. It shouldn't forget the huge resources BJP has at its command including electoral bonds, PM CARES Fund and the wholehearted solidarity of the corporates.It can create a Padmavyuha and is up for any game of any sort. It is an army disposition that has Pegasus as the superstructure and RSS as the base. Congress has to realise that it will be suicidal to leave Mamata outside in a battle against such a formidable enemy.
Congress should also learn from the way BJP has dealt with the farmers' struggle. While standing in front of a precipice, the right decision demands going backwards. And the BJP was forced to take that decision. Both RSS and BJP realized that Modi's hubris has to suffer a jolt if they have to have their way forward. BJP needs no one to tell them what matters more is the electoral victory than the fulfilment of the greed of the corporations. ''First, we must reap power; And after that the Aryan crop (a variety of paddy in Kerala)!”, sang one of the leading poets in Malayalam.
Rahul Gandhi resigned from the post of Congress president in 2019 owing responsibility for the setback in the Lok Sabha elections. Rahul had written a letter to party workers then expressing the deep anguish he felt over his battle against BJP and RSS: ''We fought a strong and dignified election. Our campaign was one of brotherhood, tolerance and respect for all of India's people, religions and communities. I personally fought the Prime Minister, the RSS and the institutions they have captured with all my being. I fought because I love India. And I fought to defend the ideals India was built upon. At times, I stood completely alone and am extremely proud of it.''
Rahul is basically an honest person. We shouldn't miss his integrity when he says that at times he stood completely alone in his fight against RSS. Maybe the feeling that even now he is alone on the battlefield might be acting as a deterrent from accepting the presidency of Congress again. We are going through one of the crucial phases in Indian politics when the idea of India is being challenged by polarizing forces. Rahul has to open a new battlefront against this backdrop. Let Arjuna, the foremost warrior who knows how to use the right weapons at the right time, lead this battle. Mamata should be the Arjuna of UPA on the battlefield of 2024! And let Rahul be Krishna! (Of course, Prashant Kishor will be there behind the screens.) That will be a deadly combination. History and time demand from Congress such an act at this critical juncture. The moment is very much here. It is up to Congress to make it historic or not!