After storming to power in West Bengal for a second consecutive term, 2016 saw Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee striving for a bigger role in national politics as she emerged among the most vocal adversaries of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his moves, particularly demonetisation….’2016 In Retrospect’ by Anurag Dey
Despite odds heavily stacked against her, including rivals Left Front and the Congress joining ranks and her own party facing severe corruption charges, Banerjee single-handedly decimated the opposition in West Bengal as the Trinamool captured 211 of the 294 seats in the assembly polls earlier this year.
Her strong desire to extend Trinamool’s influence beyond Bengal and position it as the pivot to an anti-Modi and anti-BJP political battle was evident the very day she was sworn in.
The guests of honour included key anti-BJP leaders like RJD Chief Lalu Prasad, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah who all have pitched for an alternative secular front.
Often accused by political rivals of having a “tacit understanding” with the BJP, Banerjee steadily upped the ante against Modi and repeatedly accused him of destroying the federal structure of the country and “financially depriving” Bengal.
Her aspiration of playing a key role in the capital’s politics got a fillip in September when the Trinamool got national party status from the Election Commission, and she continued her rants against Modi over various issues.
But it was the Prime Minister’s November 8 move to demonetise Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes that Banerjee has used to the hilt to mount a massive assault.
All prominent opposition leaders including Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal vehemently opposed the note-ban, but Banerjee took centre stage, holding successive meetings in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and letting loose a no-holds-barred attack on Modi through her daily tweets.
Inside Parliament, Trinamool leaders raised the pitch against the ruling BJP.
In her bid to rev up the anti-demonetisation war, she even dialled archrival Yehcury, CPI-M General Secretary, and got BJP ally Shiv Sena — otherwise a pariah for her brand of politics — on board for a march to President Pranab Mukherjee seeking rollback of the currency spike decision.
Joining forces with Kejriwal, she held two rallies in the national capital, getting support from key leaders like Janata Dal-United’s Sharad Yadav, and National Conference’s Omar Abdullah.
Using every issue to assail the BJP government, Banerjee termed as a “coup attempt” the deployment of army personnel at toll plazas in her state claiming her administration had been kept “in the dark”.
Known for her theatrics, Banerjee stayed put at the state secretariat overnight protesting against the deployment which the army called a routine exercise carried out with prior information to the state administration.
In the same vein, Banerjee also raised objections to CRPF personnel providing security to income-tax officials during search operations in Bengal.
Political observers believe Banerjee has successfully used demonetisation to assert herself in national politics.
“The Trinamool was nearly isolated from national politics following the Saradha chit fund scam. But the demonetisation protest has catapulted it back into reckoning. She (Banerjee) has revved up her image both as pro-poor and anti-Modi,” analyst Biswanath Chakraborty told IANS.
Praveen Rai, from the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, too opined that Banerjee has successfully asserted her presence in national politics.
“Considering BJP’s stint at the Centre so far, coupled with the way it has implemented demonetisation, Mamata sensed the opportunity of offering an alternative… Mamata has very wisely used the opportunity to come to the fore by leading the protest,” Rai told IANS.
It’s not just demonetisation, Banerjee has been firing one salvo after another at Modi.
On November 30, when an aircraft ferrying her had to hover over the Kolkata airport for some time before landing, the Trinamool sniffed a conspiracy to “silence” Banerjee for being at the forefront of the anti-demonetisation protest, and raised a hue and cry in parliament. The government was forced to order a probe.
She has used popular imageries to drive home her point nationally. For instance, she likened the Income Tax department to the legendary villainous character Gabbar Singh from the Hindi movie Sholay.
“It is Christmas but instead of celebrating, people are scared. They fear that Income Tax officials may turn up. Suddenly, Gabbar Singh may turn up. This is the state of the country,” Banerjee said referring to the IT raids across the country.