Ever since she became a member of Parliament from Krishnanagar in West Bengal, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mahua Moitra has been known for her no-holds-barred, fiery speeches in the Lok Sabha. She created a sensation when she delivered her explosive maiden speech on the floor of the house, where she pointed to the 'Seven signs of fascism' and sought to demonstrate how the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) government at the Centre seemed to be walking down that path.
Indeed, if she stands up to speak in the Lok Sabha, you can rest assured that she will deliver a frontal attack on the government for its alleged sins of commission and omission.
Moitra’s Jibe at the Centre Made Good Noise
Earlier this week, Moitra came out with yet another scathing takedown of the Narendra Modi government. And this time there was an interesting twist to it. Drawing attention to the government's own data — industrial output in October had shrunk 4 percent to hit a 26-month low and forex reserves had fallen by USD 72 billion in under a year — Moitra jeered, “Who’s the pappu now?”
The word “pappu” is, of course, the BJP’s favourite descriptor for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, used to convey his so-called incompetence and irrelevance. And Moitra, too, said that the ruling party had coined the term to “denigrate, signify extreme incompetence.” But then, citing one unflattering data after another, she attempted to establish that it was, in fact, the government led by the BJP, which was exhibiting unparalleled ineptitude.
If you closed your eyes, you could easily mistake it as a speech scripted and delivered by a Congress MP rather than a TMC one, since in effect, it was like a sharp counterattack on the BJP, specifically, with respect to its labelling of Rahul Gandhi as “pappu”. (It is another matter that there seems to be no one in the Congress now who can question and attack the government with such ferocious clarity, authority, and eloquence.)
So what’s going on here, one might wonder. To be sure, earlier this year, Abhijit Banerjee, TMC General Secretary and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew called Home Minister Amit Shah “India’s biggest pappu” after he was quizzed by the Enforcement Directorate for several hours in connection with his alleged involvement in a financial scam. Thereafter, several TMC leaders were seen wearing T-shirts bearing Amit Shah’s face and emblazoned with the words “India’s biggest pappu.”
Hence, Moitra could really have been taking Banerjee’s so-called “pappu” story forward in her speech. And indeed, several TMC leaders, including party spokesperson Derek O’Brien, have praised her speech.
Rahul Gandhi, the butt of BJP’s derogatory “pappu” jibes, and who is now on a rather inspirational 3500 km plus Bharat Jodo padayatra, has not reacted to Moitra’s speech. However, one may assume that it pleased him. Could that have been Moitra’s object as well?
Is All Not Well Between Mahua & Mamata?
The question may be speculative, but let us not forget that Moitra, for all her fire and brimstone presence in the Lok Sabha, has lately seemed to have been somewhat out of favour with the TMC top brass. In July this year, Moitra reacted to a question on a movie poster showing an image of goddess Kali smoking a cigarette, and said that in Bengal, the goddess was “meat-eating and alcohol-accepting”. When the BJP and the Hindutva brigade cried sacrilege, going on to file several cases against her for “hurt religious sentiments”, the TMC distanced itself from her comment.
Moitra was attacked from every side and while she gamely challenged them all and said, “Bring it on!”, it must have rankled that her own party threw her under the bus, as it were, for a statement which every Bengali knows to be true.
Again, in December 2021, a video of a party meeting widely circulated on social media, showed Mamata ticking off Moitra and telling her that the party would decide who will contest an election and who will not. “There should be no difference of opinion. I am telling you, everyone should work together,” Mamata said. One may not know the exact context of Mamata’s remarks, but the sharpness of her tone made it clear that she was displeased with Moitra.
Moitra, who had been appointed the in-charge of the TMC’s Goa unit in November, before the state went to the polls, was also removed from that post earlier this year.
Sources in the TMC say that Moitra, for all her accomplishments, has an abrasive personality and is not exactly a people person. She may be an asset in Parliament (Sudip Bandyopadhyay, TMC’s leader in the Lok Sabha, is not known for pointed speeches and feisty interventions), but apparently, it has been communicated to her that she should focus on nurturing her constituency and not get too ahead of herself.
Under the circumstances, could her “pappu” speech also have had a subtext of sending out feelers to Congress? After all, when the former investment banker threw up her lucrative job abroad and decided to dive into the rough and tumble of Indian politics in 2009, she had initially joined the Youth Congress. And it is common knowledge that Rahul Gandhi was much impressed with her abilities.
Moitra Needs To Play Her Cards Right
However, Moitra joined the TMC soon after, perhaps correctly surmising that Mamata was on the upswing in Bengal — the TMC stormed into power in 2011 while the Congress was in a state of terminal decline.
More than a decade on, the Congress’s fortunes in Bengal have only got worse. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the party won just two seats in the state, and in the Assembly elections in 2021, it scored a duck.
And that is what militates against the argument that Moitra, even if she is feeling cornered and humiliated in the TMC, could be contemplating a switch to the Congress. She knows full well that she would not be able to win a seat on a Congress ticket.
If Moitra’s “pappu” speech had more to it than meets the eye, the coming days will reveal it. Politics is a fluid, shape-shifting game (who could have imagined that the TMC Chief herself would suddenly take to praising the RSS and desist from attacking Narendra Modi?), where anything may happen and any sort of formulations might transpire. One may be sure that Mahua Moitra who is intelligent, astute, and ambitious, knows how to read situations and play her cards right.
(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author. She tweets @ShumaRaha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)