In West Bengal, ruling Trinamool has one undisputed leader – the political party’s fiery founder and the state’s current chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, popularly known as Didi (“Big Sister”). In 2011, when Trinamool came to power by dethroning the 34-year-old Communist government in the state, there was no ambiguity about who would be CM.
Yet, rival political parties in the state, which have contested subsequent state elections against Trinamool, have not been able to project one decisive chief ministerial candidate who would be able to take on Didi. Perhaps, despite anti-incumbency trends, this has deterred voters. People want to know who will lead.
At the national level, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s decision to project Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate before the 2014 general elections paid off. The party swept the polls for two consecutive terms riding on the Modi-wave. In West Bengal, Trinamool’s return to power for a second term with a thumping majority also has been attributed to the Didi-factor.
In fact, in the state elections of 2016, neither of Trinamool’s main rivals – the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist-Congress dual force – projected local politicians who would take on the task of leading the state’s administration in the event that it came to power.
The Congress Party’s decline in West Bengal has been as much linked to the rise of the Communists since 1977 as to its lack of local leadership. The Congress Party’s dynastic tradition has been Centre-oriented, which did not encourage the nurture of decentralized, regional players. The Communists too, after the death of the patriarch Jyoti Basu, failed to come up with a strong replacement. Basu’s successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharya faced constant comparison with his formidable predecessor.
As the state gears up for another Assembly election in less than two years, Cuckoo News scans the horizon for political leadership in the different parties. Our “Profiles” series will give you a closer look at some of the current political personalities.