Ms Mamata Banerjee’s travails with the ruling alliance at the Centre are only superficially the story of a maverick politician; they actually expose the underside of coalition governments. Coalition politics often compels governments to take decisions which have little to do with issues of governance. Nothing else quite explains the manner in which Ms Mamata Banerjee was reinducted in the Union cabinet. Her appointment as a minister without a portfolio does no good to the credibility of either the National Democratic Alliance government or the Trinamool Congress leader herself. Her return to the cabinet had been anticipated many times since she returned to the NDA after a dramatic separtion from it and a brief honeymoon with the Congress. But the fact that the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, could not find a suitable ministry for her even now suggests that her return to the NDA is still bedevilled by bad faith on both sides. It is no secret that many in the Central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party, including the deputy prime minister, Mr L K Advani, do not trust her as an ally and would have been happy to see her outside the cabinet. In reinducting her in the cabinet in this unconvincing fashion, Mr Vajpayee probably sought to repair the damage done to the NDA’s unity by the desertion of former allies like the Bahujan Samaj Party, the National Conference, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Dal and the Lok Janshakti.
Ms Banerjee cannot be complaining too much though. Thanks to her flip-flop politics, the fighter of yesteryears has been reduced to a supplicant who can neither get a ministry of her own choice nor afford to decline an offer she does not like. Having lost her battles against West Bengal’s ruling Marxists, she desperately needed a cabinet berth to boost her own — and her party’s — declining morale. No matter what she pretends to the contrary, she cannot be excited about the way she has been taken back into the cabinet. It is also unlikely that her latest ministerial cap would add to her abilities to fight the Left Front in next year’s Lok Sabha polls. On the contrary, the Marxists would surely want her to explain why she returned to the government which still has the defence minister, Mr George Fernandes, whose resignation she had demanded, following the Tehelka exposures of alleged corruption in defence deals. She would also be reminded of her own promise not to return to the Union government unless the Centre revoked the bifurcation of the Eastern Railway. Ms Banerjee will have her answers to these questions, but they may sound hollower than before.