When Sri Lanka became one of the most contentious topics in Indian politics during the second term of the Manmohan Singh-government, a whole host of politicians led by late Jayalalithaa took the Congress government to task. The charge was that the centre was mollycoddling the Sri Lankan government without punishing it for the war against the “Tamils”.
Despite its support for the US sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in 2009, the Manmohan Singh-government came under enormous pressure, post-resolution, to “act on” Sri Lanka by taking more stringent measures against the island nation. The Congress government’s continual refusal to give into Tamil Nadu became a key contributory factor of its defeat at the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the return of the BJP with powerful Narendra Modi as the new Prime Minister. In the five years that spanned during the end of Sri Lanka’s war in 2009, and the defeat of the Manmohan Sigh-government in 2004, there was hardly anyone outside the congress to defend Sri Lanka.
The lone voice in support of Sri Lanka or rather the Sinhalese came from Mamata Banerjee, the powerful Chief Minister of West Bengal. She went on to declare that Sinhalese are the brothers and sisters of Bengal and Sri Lanka’s war was an inevitability given the degree of LTTE violence. Last year when the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team wore masks during the matches in New Delhi, due to high levels of air pollution, Banerjee observed that the BJP government should be “ashamed” that it had left no choice for Sri Lankan team other than to wear masks due to poor air quality control in the capital.
That Mamata Banerjee has a soft corner for Sri Lanka, despite not maintaining any links with Sri Lankan politicians, is a fact. The West Bengal Chief Minister had never tried to hide this fact though she does not make a show of her feelings for the Sri Lankan brethren often.
The 63-year-old self-made politician, Banerjee is often seen as a female version of Narendra Modi and has been named one of the ‘100 Most Influential People’ in the World by Time Magazine. Having joined politics at the age of 15 with the Congress party, Banerjee after a long stint broke away from Congress and founded All India Trinamool Congress in 1998. Today with 34 seats, Trinamool Congress is the fourth largest party in Lok Sabha. An educated woman with a degree in history and Master’s degree from Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) University, Mamata Bannerjee who is known for her simple life style, has of late been waging a virtual war against the BJP, especially its President Amit Shah.
When the Congress party was down in dumps it expressed its willingness to accommodate a regional party leader as the Prime Ministerial candidate, in a joint opposition alliance, at the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Leading a state of nearly 100 million people and known for her strong political integrity Mamata Banerjee was then seen as a potential candidate for this slot. Several other regional leaders like former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu are also known for nursing ambitions for the same. Banerjee, despite her political ambitions, has been playing it safe. Last August when media queried about the possibility of her becoming the PM candidate of the opposition, she replied that it was too premature to comment on the topic. Later it was agreed by the Congress and its regional allies that they should go for 2019 polls without naming a PM candidate and decide on post post-polls.
However with the thumping victory of the Congress party at the recent assembly polls saw an overhaul of the political dynamics. Rahul Gandhi is now being touted as opposition PM candidate by some in breach of the agreement. When MK Stalin, a few days ago declared that the Congress President should be the PM candidate several regional parties, especially those with PM aspirants protested. “There is a broad agreement among all Opposition parties that the issue of PM will be decided after the poll,” media quoted Rajya Sabha floor leader of Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress as saying. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) too had made a similar statement while Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has maintained though it too falls in line it considers Rahul Gandhi as a “prime contender”. However, Congress party is unlikely to declare Rahul Gandhi as PM candidate before polls, as it is banking on the regional parties to topple the Modi-government.