Calcutta, Jan. 30: Mamata Banerjee today announced that the time had come for a change of guard in Delhi and made loud and clear her disapproval of both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi as potential Prime Ministers.
She did not name either during her 45-minute speech at the Brigade but the repeated stress that she neither wanted “rajtantra” (dynasty) nor “dangar mukh” (the face of riots) in Delhi was an indication that she was maintaining equal distance — at least for the time being — from the Congress and the BJP.
“Ebar amra Dilli-te poriborton chai. Kintu amra rajtantra chai na, amra dangar mukh chai na (Now we want a change in Delhi. But we don’t want dynastic rule, we don’t want the face of riots),” Mamata told a Trinamul rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds today.
The rally was held to commemorate Trinamul’s Martyrs Day programme — which could not be held on its scheduled date, July 21, because of the panchayat polls — besides marking the victory in the rural polls and launching the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections.
Not bad, can do better
Mamata claimed towards the end that 20 to 25 lakh people took part in the programme, which Trinamul leaders said was one of the biggest in terms of turnout. Other Trinamul sources put the overall participation at 14 lakh.
“This is a historic rally. We have never seen such a big gathering in recent times,” Mukul Roy, Trinamul’s all-India general secretary, kept repeating.
Mamata used the opportunity to send out an unmistakable message for the first time in public that she nursed the ambition to play a bigger role in national politics.
Although this was not the first time that Mamata was attacking the Congress and the BJP at one go, two factors stood out.
First, the pitch of criticism was much higher. Second, she offered Trinamul as the alternative to both these parties at the national level.
“The BJP cannot be an alternative to the Congress and the Congress cannot be an alternative to the BJP…. The TMC is the alternative for the country,” said Mamata. “Dilli chalo, Bharat goro (Let’s go to Delhi and build India).”
From rolling out a long list of states from where Trinamul will contest the Lok Sabha polls to referring to issues of national concern — like the alleged rapes in government shelters in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh — the Bengal chief minister kept the focus on national politics.
That she was trying to communicate her party’s national ambitions to an audience beyond Bengal became clear as she spoke either in Hindi or in English while listing her achievements as chief minister.
Not only did she pitch Trinamul as a potential key player after the elections, she also hinted at alliances with regional parties by projecting a prospective federal front as something that will give more powers to the states.
A fierce critic of the Centre for its refusal to offer a financial package to Bengal to tackle the debt burden accumulated during Left rule, Mamata has been demanding a higher share of the central taxes and trying to get other chief ministers to press the demand.
In a departure from the past — when economic concerns prompted her to stitch together alliances — she pitched the third front as an alternative to the two main political blocs built around the Congress and the BJP.
“We will contact friends in other parts of the country to form a federal front,” Mamata said.
Although her announcements about taking Trinamul beyond Bengal or forming an alliance with other regional parties were not backed by specifics — such as how many seats in which states the party will contest or who will join her in the federal front — her speech had several political messages.
Expressing firm disapproval of Modi, she tried to send out a signal to the minority community that she would not support him.
As the Bengal chief minister has never openly criticised her Gujarat counterpart, the Left has always prodded her to explain her position on the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister.
“She may have spoken about the face of riots but she did not make it clear whether she would join hands with the BJP if Modi is replaced by someone else from the BJP,” said Md Salim, a CPM central committee member.
That she got Noor Ur Rahman Barkati, the imam of Tipu Sultan mosque, at the programme, who spoke briefly projecting her as the future Prime Minister, was a masterstroke to counter such criticism, said Trinamul insiders.
“Her speech had a lot of nuances and they can have different interpretations,” said a Trinamul source.
Take, for instance, the other key announcement about Trinamul fighting all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal.
“We have to target 42 out of 42…. We will have to win even if the CPM, Congress and the BJP form an alliance. They had formed such an alliance in the panchayat polls, but they could not do anything. We will repeat that in the Lok Sabha polls,” said Mamata.
The contents of the chief minister’s speech — during which she criticised the UPA II government for price rise, corruption and reforms like opening up retail to FDI — may come across as a message that she is slamming the door on any pre-poll alliance with the Congress, but the reality may be different, said a source.
“The firm message can be a signal that if the Congress wants an alliance, it can happen only on her terms…. She knows how to drive a bargain,” said the source.
But in her speech, the chief minister gave an impression that she was willing to make sacrifices for the welfare of the country. On the proposed federal front — which may include several Prime Minister aspirants — Mamata made it clear that she was not interested in “chair or power”.
“We will not be at the front; we will be at the back…. We will put others forward,” Mamata said.