MAMATA Banerjee understands the propensities of a cloak. She has used it often enough in her career as turbulence has forced her to leap from one craggy shelter to another.
But she has never quite experienced the bitter pain of a chilli-coated dagger thrust into the sharp of her back by an experienced manipulator, with just enough momentum to wound but not to leave a scar that cannot heal.
The cloak is not merely a curtain behind which deals might be made. It can also be used by an adept matador to lure a charging bull into the wilderness of empty space. A dagger does not waste time on nuance. It likes the taste of blood. Its message is acrid, its environment amoral.
A cloak is the artifact of Kolkata; a dagger is the weapon of Delhi. Welcome to national politics, sister.
It is easy to be wise after the event. It is even easier to taunt the victim. Cruelty comes naturally to an audience when a bear is helpless in chains, particularly when you have no one else to blame for your chains except your own mistakes and misjudgement.
The world prefers a jeer to a laugh. But when it comes to a sober decision, naïveté is not considered a hanging offence.
Betrayal, on the other hand, is fit cause for a spell in purgatory, even if it does not always condemn you to the circles of hell.
Even by the high standards of Delhi cynicism, whether in the old days of Mughal sultanate and British Raj, or in the modern era of manipulation by numbers, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s acrobatic swing from fake rebellion to backroom sell-off is sensational. You could almost photograph the shock on Mamata Banerjee’s face when she realised she had been taken for a colossal ride by Yadav, who used her to fix his price with Congress.
Yadav was utterly unperturbed, and will continue to remain so as he shifts and twists during the life of the current parliament. But his double — or was it triple? — somersault will be remembered long after the dramatic events surrounding the election of the president of India in 2012 are forgotten, just as Chaudhury Charan Singh’s deal with Indira Gandhi to sabotage the Janata Party in 1979 is a part of political lore.
It may or may not be relevant that another UP Socialist, Raj Narain, was architect of the 1979 deal.
Mamata Banerjee has sufficient time for regret. But her greatest, if unexpressed, regret could be that Pranab Mukherjee became the Congress candidate primarily because she set out to stop him. It is common knowledge that Pranab Mukherjee was never Sonia Gandhi’s choice for president. If he had been, his name would have been announced a month ago, with none of the ensuing tension.
When the endgame arrived, she tried to make Vice President Hamid Ansari her candidate. As an individual he had credibility built over a long career of integrity, but he also possessed a name that would travel over the shoals of political danger.
Her problem was that Mukherjee not only wanted the job, but had made his desire public and gone to the extent of suggesting that he would prefer retirement to rejection. Every possibility was examined with some attention, including a wholesale reconfiguration of government.
When Mamata Banerjee took a hard stand against Mukherjee, another avenue opened up. Mrs Gandhi expected Banerjee to sabotage Mukherjee so that she could argue that there was no realistic option left but Ansari.
When Mamata and Mulayam instigated the crisis, Mrs Gandhi realised that only Mukherjee had the clout to pull Congress out of this confusion.
The good thing about politics is that even depression is temporary. Mamata Banerjee’s problem is that she is fuming in a vacuum. This space can be filled, and pretty quickly, if the opposition adopts P.A. Sangma as a candidate.
He may or may not win, but he will serve an important opposition need. He will expand the NDA circumference to include three more chief ministers, which is vast. Sangma is the declared candidate of Navin Patnaik and Jayalalithaa; and Mamata Banerjee would surely join the club.
Sangma, like her, is an ex-Congress person, so his lineage is acceptable. The immediate impact will be in the Lok Sabha, where the scattered opposition benches will find a central presence.
Mayawati, who has a key presence in the Lok Sabha, has endorsed Mukherjee but she has, pointedly, said that this is issue-based support. She has not said she will back UPA in parliament.
The dagger has had its day. Cloaks have a longer life. Only the ruthless employ the dagger. Democracy needs a bit of ruth, and a cloak is, in the long run, more useful. There is a cloak in every political party’s wardrobe.
The writer is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and editorial director, India Today and Headlines Today.