During the course of a conversation with this correspondent several years ago, former West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray explained why he could never become prime minister despite being one of the most powerful politicians of his generation. “How could I have become prime minister? Indira Gandhi outpaced everyone,” said Ray. Jyoti Basu of the CPI(M), who succeeded Ray as chief minister, had a realistic chance to occupy the coveted post. But his own party scuttled the move. Former president Pranab Mukherjee was quite candid in his assessment. “I cannot bring enough MPs from my home state to make myself a choice for prime minister,” he said.
Where many illustrious Bengali men have failed, a woman now stands a chance to be successful. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is being talked about as a possible prime minister candidate to take on the BJP in 2024. Regional parties, especially from north India, believe that Mamata, who dealt the BJP a crushing blow in this year’s assembly polls, is best suited to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The attempt to project Mamata as a national leader started soon after her resounding electoral victory. Her rapprochement with Mukul Roy, who had joined the BJP, was a step in this direction. Roy has excellent ties with leaders from across the political spectrum. The fact that the West Bengal government recently floated a tender to lease a 10-seater aircraft, too, did not go unnoticed.
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