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  Opinion   Columnists  17 Mar 2024  Anita Katyal | Who will corner the Matua vote? Seat for Nirmala a poser for BJP

Anita Katyal | Who will corner the Matua vote? Seat for Nirmala a poser for BJP

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist.
Published : Mar 17, 2024, 12:02 am IST
Updated : Mar 17, 2024, 12:02 am IST

While several RS members have been fielded for LS polls by BJP, its leadership is struggling to find a winnable seat for Nirmala Sitharaman

TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee speaks during a rally, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, in Kolkata, Sunday, March 10, 2024. (PTI Photo)
 TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee speaks during a rally, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, in Kolkata, Sunday, March 10, 2024. (PTI Photo)

They may be political adversaries but Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee have something in common. Both are averse to sharing the stage with anyone else, making sure they alone remain in the spotlight. Take the case of Mamata Banerjee. More than a week after she kickstarted the Lok Sabha poll campaign with an impressive public rally at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Grounds, everyone is still talking about her ramp walk at the venue when she strode in solo before going on to deliver her speech.

It was on this occasion that she announced the names of the 42 candidates being fielded by the Trinamul Congress for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. After the rally, she walked out with these 42 candidates in tow. Significantly, Abhishek Banerjee, the Chief Minister’s nephew and political heir, did not walk beside her but was among the chosen candidates even though he was the other star speaker at the rally. The message was clear: Mamata Banerjee is the leader and everyone else is either a follower or an apprentice.

It was no surprise when foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra got a six-month extension as both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister S. Jaishankar are known to have a soft spot for him. Not only is Kwatra ideologically aligned with the current dispensation, he also keeps a low profile. Now that Mr Kwatra’s extension is through, South Block mandarins are busy speculating about the next Indian ambassador to the United States. If the buzz in bureaucratic circles is to be believed, deputy national security advisor Vikram Misri is a frontrunner for this coveted post. Mr Misri, who has earlier served as India’s envoy to China, is also said to be in Mr Modi and Mr Jaishankar’s good books. Meanwhile, former Indian ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu, looks set for a political career with the BJP. He is being tipped for a Lok Sabha ticket from Amritsar. His senior colleague and former foreign secretary Harsh Shringla has already launched a mass contact programme in Darjeeling as he is in the running for a BJP ticket from there.

The Modi government’s decision to notify the Citizenship (Amendment) Act rules ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha election was taken with the primary purpose of further consolidating the support of West Bengal’s Matua community which has been pushing for the implementation of this law. Predictably, the news about the notification was greeted with loud cheers and celebrations, led by Union minister of state for shipping Shantanu Thakur who has taken up the cause of the Matua community’ s demand for citizenship. But confusion soon set in regarding the application process. While Thakurnagar residents from the Matua community are weighing the risk of applying for citizenship under the new rules, the junior minister’s local office has told them it is trying to figure out what the form requires and the consequences of submitting an application. Taking advantage of this lack of clarity, the TMC has pointed out that an applicant will be required to submit his or her father’s birth certificate. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has described the form as legally dubious while pointing out that, like many others, she, too, does not have her father’s birth certificate.

While several RS members have been fielded for the LS polls by the BJP, its leadership is struggling to find a winnable seat for finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman. There were strong rumours till a week ago that she could be fielded from a constituency in Bengaluru. However, those rumours have died down. Karnataka BJP leaders say the state unit had told the party bosses in Delhi that Sitharaman’s candidature from the state may not be received well and could even damage the party’s prospects on other seats. They maintained that Sitharaman’s outsider tag could prove to be a big negative as both the BJP and Congress have invoked Kannada pride in recent poll campaigns. More importantly, the state unit felt Sitharaman’s silence on Karnataka's woes over the Cauvery waters issue, coupled with her Tamil identity, could prove to be a negative. BJP insiders now say Ms Sitharaman may be fielded from Tamil Nadu or AP, another state she has represented in the Rajya Sabha.

How the mighty have fallen. Once an important member of the Congress leadership’s inner coterie, Suresh Pachouri has been reduced to another face in the crowd following his recent induction into the BJP. If Pachouri thought he would enjoy the same prominence here as he did in the Congress, he was mistaken. A recent photograph of a party function in MP says it all. It shows the present and former chief minister, flanked by several smiling BJP state leaders, while Pachouri can barely be spotted in the last row. This is a far cry from his long association with the Congress which rewarded Pachouri with several terms in Rajya Sabha and entrusted him with key assignments even though he has never been a mass leader.


Tags: matua community, prime minister narendra modi, citizenship amendment act (caa), mamata banerjee, nirmala sitaraman
Location: India, West Bengal