The feisty political feast

The feisty political feast

Mamata BanerjeeThe principal difference between an “off the record” and “on the record” conversation with a politician is that the former is likely to be much closer to the truth.

Off-the-record does not mean outside-the-discourse; after all, the best way to keep anything to yourself is to remain silent. When a politician chooses to talk without attribution, it only means he, or indeed she, is sending a message with an in-built denial clause. Off-the-record is a means of placing frustration and anger into public play. This is par for the course, and far more fun than the carefully chosen phrases of official fudge.

One senior Congress politician has an extraordinary wish for 2012. He wants the Opposition NDA to come to power in the new year for just one reason—so that NDA might suffer Mamata Banerjee’s tantrums just as the present coalition has had to bear them. His assumption, that no government in Delhi is possible in this Parliament without an alliance with the Bengal chief minister, is correct. He could think of no greater curse than survival with the support of Mamata Banerjee.

But give the feisty Banerjee credit for daring; with just 19 MPs she has defeated the 206-MP strong Congress four times this year, and each time in a crucial game. She tripped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Bangladesh by refusing to part with the Teesta river waters. She lassoed him at home over foreign direct investment in retail, and pensions. And she left UPA flat on its face on the Lokpal bill. She understands a basic rule, that they best strategy vis-a-vis Congress is to replicate how Congress treats its allies.

Congress does not consider an alliance to be a cooperative. It plays by what might be called the Frank Sinatra method: my way, or the highway. Suddenly, Mamata Banerjee is telling her senior partner that if it wants to stay in power, then it will be on her terms. She knows Congress culture intimately; after all, she has been there.

Mamata Banerjee may sometimes succumb to mistakes, but she does not   believe in accidents. Her moves are deliberate. Her message for 2012   is obvious: her options are open. She has no reason to be as docile as   the DMK, since she is not vulnerable on any corruption charge. She  does not fear exposure because she has no great scam to hide from the   CBI. She is not worried therefore about Delhi’s blackmail. She doesn’t   know how to be meek; that particular gene was left out of her DNA.

Congress is used to lambs in its fold, even when sometimes it feels that there is a wolf lurking inside in sheep’s clothing. As long as the wolf bleats, all is well. Suddenly, Congress is faced with the prospect, in the words of the Urdu poet, of watching the house go up in flames because of a domestic lamp. It will burn slowly, corner by corner.

Congress politics, therefore, will be centered in the first half of the  new year on a single objective: how to find a hedge against Mamata Banerjee’s 19 MPs. Congress does not necessarily want to replace Mamata; it only seeks to make her irrelevant. It wants honey without the sting. This is what makes Mulayam Singh Yadav so crucial to its prospects.

In its ideal scenario, Mulayam would be the largest single party after the UP Assembly elections, but dependent on Congress MLAs for a majority. His MPs would be collateral hostage in Delhi, keeping   Prime Minister Rahul Gandhi stable for two years until the 2014   general elections.

There are enough reasons for the senior Congress notable to prefer anonymity; verbal interventions have to be timed, as well as graded. Congress has given permission to its Bengal unit to attack Mamata Banerjee with vitriol, but it is only Delhi’s acid that can burn relationships. Messages are flying in both directions, but the moment has not yet come to switch off-record to on-record. Wait another twelve weeks or sixteen. – Khaleejnews