Bad times to bad decisions to further bad times. Mamata Banerjee seems unable to get out of the vicious cycle.
It is difficult otherwise to explain how she did not see the obvious — that the decision to boycott the rest of the Assembly session would harm her own party far more than it would hurt arch enemy CPM. Some of her party colleagues saw the decision for what it was — a patently wrong strategy — but she was never the one for cold reason.
True, she has a political compulsion to protest against the Marxists’ “terror tactics” in the panchayat elections. But the decision to boycott the rest of the budget session of the Assembly is flawed on several counts.
In fact, she should have grabbed the opportunity of the Assembly session with both hands. It could give party MLAs an opportunity to raise a daily din over the CPM’s “politics of terror”. With nearly 60 MLAs, she could have made things difficult for chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Boycotting the House would actually mean lost opportunities and lost voices.
The alternative always is to hit the streets. Even Mamata has increasingly realised the futility of this method, which usually means violence and greater alienation from the people. This is why she has not called a Bangla bandh — something that was the staple of her politics until a few years ago. She may not give up the politics of street fights altogether, but that can no longer turn things her way.
Trinamul MLA Arunava Ghosh was right when he argued that it was wrong to boycott the House by following the Marxists’ precedence of 1972. In the first phase, the CPM and its allies boycotted the Assembly then for all of five years, and not for just half a session. Ghosh was also right when he said the Trinamul boycott would further cripple the party in the villages.
But he was wrong on a fundamental point. The CPM may have found the going tough between 1972 and the 1977 Assembly elections. But it is a very different party because of its organisation and could therefore sweep the polls in 1977. Trinamul has no such organisation that would keep the party alive and kicking outside the legislative presence.
In fact, even a temporary vacuum in the Assembly has another new danger for Mamata in the upbeat Congress. Having emerged more successful than Trinamul in the panchayat polls, the Congress will spare no pains to poach on the latter’s fields. Even if Trinamul MLAs do not cross over to the Congress in large numbers, the desertions can start at the grassroots level.
This has already started happening after the 2001 Assembly elections, which crushed the anti-Left people’s faith in Mamata’s ability to maul the Marxists. Two most striking examples of this process are the two Congress candidates for the Lok Sabha byelection from Nabadwip and the Assembly bypoll from Vidyasagar in Calcutta — both of them were Trinamul nominees during the 2001 Assembly polls. Completely outplayed by the CPM, Mamata now has a real problem in this Congress assault.
The longer her MLAs stay away from the Assembly, the more her party’s space may be encroached on by the Congress. With the byelections to Nabadwip and Vidyasagar and the elections to 13 municipalities due in June, she can hardly afford the risk. Besides, since her party will take part in these elections, the political logic of the Assembly boycott will be further blunted.
Making noises in Delhi, as she plans to do later this month, will be of little help. By the time her party eventually returns to the House, the losses from the boycott may outweigh any symbolic gains.