Monday, October 18, 2021

Fly on the wall | Mamata's game of 50

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Mamata's game of 50
The Game-2024 for the Lok Sabha polls has already begun. While the Congress Party is desperately working hard to revive itself and putting its entire might to win a couple of states in the ensuing round of Assembly polls early next year, the BJP is trying hard to defend its citadel in four states; UP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur. Punjab is being watched very closely as its an open game with pollsters predicting a win for the dark horse AAP though its early days. These polls are also crucial for some of the regional players like SP, and BSP who have been facing BJP's onslaught for the past seven years in UP. But for most of the regional Satraps in the East, West and Southern regions, these Assembly polls are not of much consequence.

In the East in West Bengal, Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is rather waiting for the Congress to suffer a setback. She knows that she is not a player in North Indian politics and remains unruffled as her honeymoon with the Congress is virtually over. She is now on her own trip with poll strategist Prashant Kishore advising her actively. If grapevine has it, she is now targeting to secure 50 Lok Sabha seats during the 2024 parliamentary polls as she can be a player in any non-BJP government formulation. This is a huge target considering her appeal confined to West Bengal with 42 Lok Sabha seats. She hopes to polarize the state the same way as Modi did in 2014 and 2019. Rather, she will have an added appeal to the voters saying; vote for me as I can be PM, a first Bengali. She may be anywhere between 34-37 Lok Sabha in 2024. But to win extra 13-15 seats, is an Herculean task. She is working hard to replace Congress in the North East comprising 22 Lok Sabha seats. She has already brought senior Congress leader Sushmita Dev into the party and was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha seat to influence voters in Assam and Tripura. She is also making a strategy to get a couple of seats each in Odisha, Jharkhand and even Bihar and enter into strategic adjustments with parties in states where Bengali voters are in large numbers.

The DarK Horse Uddhav
Until the other day, NCP Supremo Shaarad Rao Pawar was the only name that always cropped up for the post of PM probable. But knowledgeable sources say that unassuming Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray could be a new player in the Game-2024. He has changed the entire culture and ethos of Shiv Sena during the past two years in power. Uddhav is in the driver's seat and shown to the people how a coalition government is run. With no one around to take on the mighty BJP juggernaut Uddhav's style of working has given some hope as well. He has been a successful manager, measured in his responses, doesn't mince words either and knows when to keep quiet.

He is managing two very ambitious leaders, Sharad Pawar and Nana Patole with tremendous skill. Political pundits say if India gets a hung parliament, Uddhav is the man to watch. Uddhav has mastered the art of retaining his hard line Hindutva credentials and at the same time running a secular government without big jerks.

He continues to be close to the RSS, goes to Ayodhya, meets Modi and still keeps his secular partners happy. In addition, he also takes pride in his Maratha identity. The Sena has also shed its anti-minority violent image too. In a way, Uddhav Thackeray can be India’s first secular Hindu nationalist. It will be difficult for the BJP to use the minority appeasement bogey against a Hindu party. In addition, big corporate houses in Mumbai also like him. Interestingly, they are the same houses who bow before Modi in Delhi, But keep Thackeray in good humour in Mumbai.

Rising graph of Stalin
After two powerful southern leaders; K Kamraj and J Jayalalitha, failed to grab power in Delhi, DMK's M K Stalin is contemplating trying his luck. But he is not in a hurry and is slowly consolidating his position. He is looking beyond 2024 even if there is a hung house three years down the line. Poll strategist Prashant Kishore is a common factor between Stalin and Mamata Banerjee. If Mamata is targeting a 50 seats game, he is not far behind either. Currently, he is creating an identity raising issues like “federal structure” etc without talking politics directly. He is busy mobilising non-BJP Chief Ministers on key issues.