Indian politicians are notorious for trying to fool the people; but their nemesis comes when they start fooling themselves too. Ms Mamata Banerjee seems to be caught in an even worse trap. She cannot fool herself that her return to the ruling National Democratic Alliance makes her a winner. The move gives another blow to whatever is left of her political credibility. The NDA may have reopened the doors to her, but it could be a long time before she regains its trust. Ms Banerjee’s decision to rejoin the NDA is one more proof that the rebellious streetfighter who once captured the imagination of West Bengal’s anti-left masses has shrunk into a run-of-the-mill political opportunist. But her rejoining the alliance and an eventual return to the Union ministry could well be a non-event as far as its political significance is concerned. She would be exceptionally naïve to expect the people to believe her arguments for returning to the NDA. It is most likely that she herself does not believe any of them. Even if one assumes that Mr George Fernandes, the NDA convener, has really assured her of a rethink on the issue of the bifurcation of Eastern Railway, she should know that it is very unlikely to happen. The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, did not care to reconsider the railway ministry’s decision when the Trinamool Congress left the NDA to protest against it. Mr Vajpayee and other NDA leaders have had enough of her tantrums by now to do anything to upset the railway minister, Mr Nitish Kumar, his Samata Party and the overall alliance politics.
The fact is that Ms Banerjee desperately needed to end her political isolation on the eve of the winter session of Parliament to avoid sitting on the opposition benches. Mr Fernandes, whose resignation she had demanded following the Tehelka disclosures before she left the NDA the first time to join hands with the Congress before last year’s assembly elections in West Bengal, provided her with the escape route for old times’ sake. Having lost her game of unseating the Left Front and thereby her power to blackmail the NDA, she needed just any excuse to creep back into New Delhi’s power circles. She should be in no doubt that leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party will now have only contempt for her. Worse still, her own followers, let alone the common people, would see her return to the NDA as an ignominious surrender of a discredited leader. This could be a worse loss than last year’s electoral defeat and stump her party’s chances in next year’s panchayat elections. Ms Banerjee’s loss could be the Congress’s gain in Bengal because the party can now try to gather her deserted flock and rebuild itself.