After regaining the crown of West Bengal with a thumping majority in third consecutive elections, the supreme leader of TMC is eyeing to become the flagbearer of the Opposition unity at the national level. After the victory, Mamata Banerjee is consistently trying to increase TMC’s footprints over several States in the country. Defeating the mighty BJP in the bitterly fought Assembly election has definitely given her the legitimacy to become the leader of Opposition unity, but the moot question still remains ‘where is the Bengal model of governance?’
After winning Gujarat for the third time in 2012, Narendra Modi was considered to be the de-facto contender to clinch power in the 2024 General Elections. Modi’s victory was considered to be a people's mandate after the success of the ‘Gujarat Model. It was a model of good governance, growth and private entrepreneurship-driven development and augmentation of the State’s infrastructure. Having heard or experienced this model, people across the country wanted Narendra Modi to emulate it for the whole of India. Hence, the nation witnessed the victory of Modi in 2014. When the Opposition lacks a strong face against PM Modi, Mamata Banerjee, having won a State thrice, is keen to fill that gap.
A Failed Model
Bengal, the epicentre of socio-political activities and a financial hub in colonial times, has seen a steady decline in all economic parameters post-Independence. Bengal's industrial development started declining in the mid-1960s and never galloped again. After the economic reforms of 1991, Bengal’s Communist Government, as late as 2006 under then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, tried setting up Indonesia’s Salim group’s chemical hub at Nandigram, Tata Nano car plant in Singur. Mamata Banerjee vociferously agitated against both the projects and stalled them to gain political mileage. Since then, no big industry has invested in Bengal. Hence, West Bengal’s share in Foreign Direct Investment also stood at only 1 per cent in 2019-20. Even though the State has recorded growth in the MSME sector, it is neither capital nor labour intensive. This has resulted in unemployment and migration of educated youth to the more prosperous Western and Southern States. Therefore, the State’s economy is mostly in the hands of the unorganised sector, which means the State has low tax revenue generation, and it results in nearly 33 per cent debt to GSDP ratio the year before the pandemic struck, which is among 5 States which have this ratio more than 30 per cent. Hence, even after ruling Bengal for ten years, Mamata does not have a Modi-kind of a development growth model to present before the voters of the country.
TMC’s Perception in Rest of India
Since the Communist’s regime, Bengal has unfortunately been the hotbed of political violence. When Mamata Banerjee was in the Opposition, she has been the victim of violent attacks by the Leftist cadres. After she ousted the Left Government in 2011, many believed her emergence would end this culture of violence and political murders. But the Panchayat elections in 2018 shattered this dream when bombs were hurled at Opposition candidates, and many were not allowed to contest elections. Since then, as the BJP started working on the ground and galvanising masses on the issue of Durga pooja and other matters of Hindutva, the TMC cadre became much more violent. The everyday news related to violence and political killings of BJP workers created a negative perception of TMC and Mamata Banerjee in other parts of India, where incidences of political violence are rare. Another image of Mamata is of a Muslim appeaser due to the stoppage of Durga pooja processions on Muharram. This could hurt her prospects in the States, where the Muslim population does not sway the balance of power. Hence, considering this perception, she will need an image makeover and the Gujrat-like development model, which Modi had to draw votes from States other than Bengal.
TMC has been trying to woo the disgruntled Congress leaders having some mass base in some areas of a particular State in the last few months. In her recent visit to Delhi and Mumbai, Mamata tried to connect with the personalities which have voiced their opinions against the ruling dispensation at Centre
TMC has been trying to woo the disgruntled Congress leaders having some mass base in some areas of a particular State in the last few months. She began with Sushmita Dev, ex-MP and president of all India Mahila Congress. Her father was a 5-time MP from Silchar and a 2-time MP from Tripura. She is a Bengali, and is given the responsibility of Tripura and Assam. TMC, which always had some presence in Tripura, is again trying to gain some ground and is making efforts to oust the saffron party in the 2024 elections. This can be seen because Sushmita Dev is hitting the ground consistently to fulfil the cause. In September, another leader Luizinho Faleiro, former Goa CM and 7th term MLA from Navelim constituency, joined TMC. This was followed by Mamata Banerjee’s visit to the State. It shows that TMC will be fighting the Goa elections seriously. It successfully merged 2/3rds of the Congress legislative party in Meghalaya along with ex-CM Mukul Sangma.
In her recent visit to Delhi and Mumbai, Mamata tried to connect with the personalities who have voiced their opinions against the ruling dispensation at Centre. She tried to portray that these so-called eminent dissenters do not have faith in the Congress and believe Mamata Banerjee as the face of change. Going further, she even may try to woo G-23 leaders to get them into the TMC and would try to build the base in the States where some of these leaders are capable of swaying the public opinion in her favour making a dent into the established vote bank of Congress.
What would be the impact?
Getting the reasonably strong regional Congress satraps can bring some of their traditional votes into TMC’s kitty, but it won’t be sufficient to fulfil Mamata Banerjee's ambitions. Getting a stronghold over the masses in States other than that of Bengal would again need ‘Bengal Model’ to make them vote for TMC as a party and not at the behest of a local strongman. TMC, or for that matter, AAP’s entry in the States where BJP and Congress are the only contenders will only benefit BJP as any of these two parties will inevitably make inroads into Congress’ vote bank considering their strong views against BJP and Narendra Modi.
In conclusion, even though Mamata Banerjee has won Bengal convincingly, her case to become a pan-India face of Opposition unity is still not convincing.