The similarities between Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee are uncanny. They share sharp political smarts, wear their heroic arrogance on their sleeve, don’t like naysayers and fully control their respective political parties.
Power and office is their strength and while Banerjee allows nephew “bhaipo” Abhishek Banerjee a small power share, Modi has his doppelganger Amit Shah. Both Modi and Mamata can get riled up quickly.
Two contrasting personalities
Mamata Banerjee likes to portray herself as a street fighter in “hawai chappals” (rubber slippers) who has repeatedly shed blood on the street in her ascent to the Writers building in Kolkata.
Modi on the other hand is extremely conscious of his attire and often dons expensive jamavar shawls. The long flowing white beard he currently sports has set off much political buzz if has he cultivated it for the Bengal elections, in a nod to the greatest son of Bengal — Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore.
The Late C R Irani, my editor in The Statesman, once told me how Banerjee visited his home for a Diwali do in Kolkata. Seeing the genteel bhadralok elite Mamata grabbed two pedas (sweet dish) and forced one in the startled Irani’s mouth, popped the other one and said “there I ate, now let me go Baba. I am a common person, I don’t belong here” and rushed out. Modi on the other handrevels in the company of the elite.
With the battle for Bengal just weeks away it will be Modi (the BJP still does not have a CM face) squaring off against Bengal ki Beti (Bengal's daughter) Banerjee. Modi is expected to address a record number of rallies in Bengal and the TMC is totally banking on Banerjee to pull off the David versus Goliath battle.
The BJP is armed with the biggest war chest but makes huge missteps like Babul Supriyo’s retort to Bengal ki Beti as “Beti is paraya dhan” (daughter gets married off eventually) with a photograph of Amit Shah. It did not go over well in Bengal and got Supriya a sharp rap on the knuckles from Shah.
Ask the TMC leadership and they equate Banerjee with “Durga and “Kali” the feminine energy fighting alone to save her citadel. If — and it is a big if — Banerjee manages to win, she will be the pre-eminent leader in the opposition, a real contender for leading it, a woman leader who single-handedly saw off the Pax BJP of Modi and Shah.
Zero votes for governance
I would have done a SWAT analysis of Modi and Banerjee’s governance which is equally idiosyncratic with teachable moments like the demonetisation disaster of the BJP government but, governance gets you no votes in India.
The personality of the leader and following does. And, Modi and Shah has tapped a rich vein of majority disaffection in West Bengal. They portray Banerjee as a minority appeaser.
But, despite the effort, the BJP has taken on board nearly 19 TMC defectors including minister Suvendu Adhikari. If you take in to account earlier TMC defector Mukul Roy then the Bengal BJP team looks like Banerjee team B.
Banerjee fights best as the underdog as she did in her epic struggle with the Left. Modi also always makes it about himself and certain persecution he faces despite being one of the most powerful PM’s India has had.
Curiously, the ideology-agnostic election strategist Prashant Kishor who came to the limelight managing Modi’s 2014 campaign before an epic fallout with Shah is helming Banerjee’s campaign.
And, as a very sharp leader from Maharashtra currently keeping a very sharp eye on the eight phase Bengal election (another record) points out — Modi and Mamata live and breath 24/7 politics.
He says “look at the deployment of the CBI and ED against Banerjee but she’s indomitable...still standing and fighting.” Bengal, as it has many times, will again tell India what to think.