2019 Polls: Can Mamata Banerjee Emerge As Both Kingmaker & King?

Mamata Banerjee might prove to be an excellent choice as PM, given her illustrious public service record. 

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Image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee used for representational purposes.
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This election season is witnessing an interesting paradox. This is primarily because there are two distinct narratives that are emerging from the public domain. It's however, not the regular Congress vs BJP or Modi vs Rahul narrative. So what are we talking about? The stark contrast between credible ground reportage versus the opinion polls that are doing the rounds on TV news.

While the opinion polls are by and large giving a clear edge to the BJP, ground reports suggest otherwise. From Western UP to Vidharba, rural MP to Chattisgarh, and Jharkhand – across states – there seems to be a tide against the BJP and its allies.

While it is certain that the ruling BJP will lose a substantial chunk of seats, the majority of its allies such as Shiv Sena, JD(U), Akali Dal, AIADMK are likely to lose more. Given the past track records, it is safe to assume that ground reports are mostly more credible than opinion polls (which always tend to overestimate the fortunes of the ruling party).

If trends hold, then a non-BJP government is very much possible post 23 May. If such a scenario were to arise, then who would be the front runner as the PM choice?

All Eyes on the Congress

The number of seats the Congress wins in this election will ultimately decide who gets to become the prime minister post 23 May, in the event of the Modi-led NDA not securing the required majority. Even by conservative estimates, the Congress is estimated to win at least a 100 seats.

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This comes from two schools of thought. While opinion polls are giving it between 70-100 seats, ground reports are projecting somewhere between 110-140 seats. In such a scenario, the United Progressive Alliance, led by the Congress with its existing allies, should at least be around 160-180 seats. These include allies such as DMK+ in Tamil Nadu, RJD+ in Bihar, NCP in Maharashtra, JMM+ in Jharkhand etc.

So, we are staring at two possibilities. In the first scenario, if the Congress manages to win between 135-150 seats, then it will have one of their own as the prime minister.

Whether it’ll be Rahul Gandhi or some other consensus nominee, is a discussion for another day. On the other hand, if it fails to secure the required numbers and is under 125 seats, then the going might get tough for them. This will require them to look for other potential allies beyond the folds of UPA. That’s when the role of various regional players as kingmakers will come into play.

Regional Players As Kingmakers

Interestingly, this election seems to be the most regional parties-friendly. At the same time, the NDA allies like the Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, AIADMK, JD(U) are expected to lose more seats than the BJP, owing to their massive unpopularity in their respective states. UPA allies such as DMK, RJD, JMM, NCP etc are expected to contribute significantly to the alliance’s tally. Many political observers believe that the BJP has ceded more seats to its allies primarily in Maharashtra and Bihar, where they would have got more seats if they fought alone.

However, it’s the parties outside the folds of the NDA and UPA who’ll play a decisive role in forming the next government at the Centre. These include the TMC in West Bengal (30-35 seats), the SP-BSP-RLD-led Mahagathbandhan (MGB) in UP (30-45 seats), TRS in Telangana (12-15 seats), YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh (12-17 seats), BJD in Odisha (15-18 seats), Left Front (10-15 seats) and other smaller regional players. While the likes of TMC, MGB, TDP, Left Front will be more inclined towards supporting the UPA, others like TRS, YSRCP, BJD etc might end up supporting the NDA. However, the catch here is that if the BJP gets below 200 seats on its own, then even the combined seats of its potential allies will not be more than 45 seats, which won’t be sufficient to cross the magic figure, to surpass the majority.

The Question of the Consensus PM Candidate

With each passing day, this process seems inevitable. This, while Prime Minister Modi is trying hard to terrorise the electorate with such a scenario, terming it Mahamilawat. But if you think deeply, there can’t be a more democratic way of choosing the prime minister in a federal democracy. A cluster of strong state leaders coming together to choose a consensus candidate, is an excellent proposition. It makes up for enough checks and balances to avoid disastrous policies such as demonetisation. Although a general voter might think that there are a dozen leaders eyeing the PM chair, in reality, there aren’t enough options.

From the South, Stalin is still waiting to become the CM of Tamil Nadu, HD Deve Gowda is ageing, Pinarayi Vijayan is not in the race, neither are Chandrababu Naidu and KCR, considering their individual seat strength in the Parliament isn’t that high. The north of India is dominated by either Congress or BJP CMs. The northeast doesn’t stand a chance. So, this primarily leaves us with three options: Sharad Pawar from NCP, Mayawati from MGB, and Mamata Banerjee from TMC.

Amongst these, Sharad Pawar too is ageing, and is vying more for the President’s chair. As for Mayawati, although MGB will lobby hard, it will eventually have to settle for ally-ship mostly from the outside. This is mainly because it’ll be nearly impossible to get a consensus on her candidature from all regional parties including the Congress. This leaves us with only one definitive choice : West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Mamata Banerjee for PM?

This might sound like a day dream, but there are very strong reasons as to why this could be a real possibility post-23 May, when the results are announced. Firstly, after Congress and BJP – barring the MGB – the Mamata Banerjee-led AITC is projected as having the highest number of seats. Even in the outgoing Lok Sabha, it’s the third largest party. This makes them an extremely strong block in any alliance. Secondly, after Sharad Pawar, she’s the only leader who can attract maximum regional leaders as potential allies. This includes parties like TRS, YSRCP, BJD and many others. This will make sure that they have enough numbers to achieve a majority.

In her defence, she might prove to be an excellent choice as PM, given her illustrious public service record. She is not only a two-time chief minister, but is also a two-time Union Minister of Railways (first woman to hold that position) besides also being the first female Union Minister of Coal, and Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Youth Affairs, Sports, Women and Child Development in the Cabinet.

The firebrand leader pulled off a landslide victory in 2011 for the TMC-Congress alliance in West Bengal, defeating the 34-year-old Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government; the world's longest-serving democratically elected communist government. This is no mean feat. Mamata Banerjee was also named as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012, by Time magazine.

Of course, this proposition is based on a lot of permutations and combinations, but come 23 May, we might be in for a real surprise. Thus, the ‘game of thrones’ for the general elections is now wide open. In case the electorate actually throws up a fractured mandate, Didi might well turn out to be both kingmaker as well as king.

(Bishal Paul is an author, screenwriter, filmmaker and entrepreneur. He tweets @BuiSpeaks. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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