Kolkata: Numbers tell only part of the story when it comes to politics; the remaining part is told by the names on the guest list for the coronation ceremony and, in Bengal, the colour of the carpet.
But Mamata Banerjee in 2016 finds herself in a position where she can change the formula laid down for political scripts.
So, for her, each part, independently, can tell the full story; but they can as well be sub-plots that merge into a continuous political narrative, giving her supporters, and opponents, an idea of how formidable she has become since 2006, when the result of another assembly election prompted them to write her political obituary. Banerjee now has 211 seats in the 294-member Bengal assembly, 35 members in the Lok Sabha and 12 members in the Rajya Sabha.
These numbers translate into a guest list that comprises Union ministers from India’s ruling party (Arun Jaitley), representatives from the main opposition party (the Congress’s Ahmed Patel), chief ministers of states (Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal, Bihar’s Nitish Kumar, Uttar Pradesh’s Akhilesh Yadav), their allies (Bihar’s Lalu Prasad Yadav), regional satraps who are now out of office but can control states in the next election (National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah and DMK’s Kanimozhi) and representatives from all over the political landscape, including those from Orissa’s BJD and Tamil Nadu’s AIADMK.
The sheer strength of numbers also allows Banerjee to reinvent the colour of red carpets: a blue carpet will stretch for over a kilometre, from the Netaji Statue at the Rani Rashmoni Avenue-Red Road crossing to the venue of the oath-taking ceremony near the East Gate of Fort William, covering the surface of Red Road — named after a colour that the CM does not like — with a carpet whose hue she has said she likes.
Lending gravitas to the ceremony will be a head of state, Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, another representative from another country, Bangladesh industries minister Amir Hossain Amu, and adding to its glitter would be Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan and mega star Shah Rukh Khan. But all this will not be able to cover a huge vacuum, which is also representative of Bengal’s larger politics right now. The opposition will not be there at all, a huge change from Banerjee’s 2011 oath-taking ceremony, when just-unseated Left Front leaders like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose were part of the audience, watching the lady they had scorned and snubbed being sworn in the CM.
All this would not matter to Banerjee right now. Leaders far more important now, like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have offered an olive branch after the fireworks of the poll campaign. With Mamata Banerjee planning to induct mayor Sovan Chatterjee in her new cabinet, Kolkata is set to get a new mayor. There were speculations in Trinamool circles that a party heavyweight like Manish Gupta may get the job.
Mamata indicated that Chatterjee will be given a ministerial responsibility similar to his present job, which means he may get urban development and municipal affairs, putting a question mark on Firhad Hakim’s portfolio. Chances are that urban development may be delinked from municipal affairs. Mamata Banerjee has capped her new cabinet at 42 for the moment — two short of the permitted 44. Old-timers Amit Mitra, Partha Chatterjee, Subrata Mukherjee, Aroop Biswas, Bratya Basu, Purnendu Bose and Jyotipriya Mullick will continue as ministers for the second term.
Besides mayor Sovan Chatterjee, there are 16 new faces such as Subhendu Adhikari, Shobhondeb Chattopdhyay, Abdur Rezzak Molla, Laxmiratan Shukla, Indraneil Sen, Tapan Dasgupta and Siddiqullah Chowdhury. Malda is the only district that has no minister.