High risks make for high drama. The success of Mamata Banerjee’s politics is based, albeit in part, on her ability to take calculated risks. Her decision to withdraw from the second United Progressive Alliance is a gamble with very high stakes. She has taken such flutters before. Witness her agitation before the Nano plant in Singur, which brought her handsome winnings. The counter example is provided by her moves before the recent presidential polls; here the political dice did not roll in her favour. But as a risk-taker, Ms Banerjee knows that in the casino of politics one cannot win all the time and that it is often possible to win when the chips are down. She has put all her money on green. It is always difficult to rationalize the decisions of a politician like Ms Banerjee, who appears to be driven by intuition and populist rhetoric rather than by steps based on reason. This notwithstanding, it is worth trying to understand the factors that probably determined her decision to withdraw support from the Union government.
There is the growing perception that the government at the Centre led by the Congress is not only tainted but also incompetent. The latter aspect is manifest in the government’s inability to handle price rise and other issues that adversely affect the common people. Ms Banerjee probably thinks it wise to distance herself from such a government to avoid the ignominy that is being heaped on it. She believes that by doing this she is furthering her image as a leader committed to protecting and advocating the cause of the people. Her withdrawal of support and the consequent exit of Trinamul Congress members of parliament from ministries provide her with a golden opportunity. She can project herself as a leader to whom the people are more important than portfolios. All the above factors combined, she obviously believes, will fetch her dividends during the elections, which she hopes will be held sooner rather than later.
However persuasive these arguments might be, very few decisions of Ms Banerjee are free from the touch of the enigmatic. In the present context, the enigma is present in her announcement that TMC ministers will resign only on Friday. Her mention of the Jummabar was a crude attempt to woo Muslims but the deferred resignations appear to be a not-too-covert offer for negotiations. She has decided to leave but does not want to leave: this seems to be the impression that she wants to convey. Ms Banerjee is playing to the hilt the role of a victim: a victim of indifference on the part of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. After all, she had waited long and in vain for the phone to ring. This narrative of victimhood deliberately overlooks that the real victim of the populist posturing is the state of West Bengal, which will be consigned to not-too-splendid isolation.