The newly elected Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, along with that of Telangana, have no qualms in cooperating with the NDA run Centre in the overall interest of their states and the nation. Partly, because they managed to overcome whatever challenge the BJP posed to their parties in these states. Odisha’s BJP conceded some ground in the Lok Sabha contest, but it hasn’t put Naveen Patnaik off his stride. This displays a maturity and sense of perspective seemingly absent in another Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal. She recognises that the BJP has emerged as the primary opposition in the state and seems unaware of how to counter the challenge.
This is evident in her angry reaction to the chanting of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in her presence. Whether this is put on for the consumption of the voters, or genuine, it is not going down well with a large number of people. Having as she does a large captive votebank in Muslim dominated constituencies, she probably feels compelled to take a hard stance against ‘muscular’ Hindutva. However, she is overlooking the factors that worked against the SP-BSP combine in UP – the ideologically uncommitted voters, whose numbers are increasing everywhere. Her dependence on what is described as ‘appeasement’ politics could go completely haywire if Muslim parties like Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM or Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF were to tie-up with smaller players in her state. The impact of such combinations can be seen in the role played by the alliance between AIMIM and Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Agadi in Maharashtra during the Lok Sabha Polls.
She has made the distinction between ‘Jai Shri Ram’, basically a war cry, and ‘Jai Siya-Ram’, a civil greeting, but by reacting violently against the challenge, she is playing into her opponents’ hands. She could take a cue from the late Atal Behari Vajpayee, who basically ignored the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ exhortations, even though it was his own party’s clarion call.
Of course, what she is finding difficult to overcome is her own non-performance as a Chief Minister on almost all fronts. She doesn’t even have the luxury of launching Kejriwal like schemes because her state’s economy is no position to underwrite them. The decline of the Left, her favourite whipping horse thus far has also left her disoriented and she cannot maneuver her forces towards the unexpected challenge from the BJP. This has left her responding with her trademark violence, challenging the Election Commission and the authority of the Constitution, and facing off against the Centre, instead of just a political party. She cannot possibly expect the people of her state of any class or community to back her on that!