American diplomats pushed United States government officials to cultivate the All India Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, following her party's success in West Bengal in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, even while recording scepticism about whether she had changed from being a political maverick to being able to lead the State as Chief Minister.
“Her party's public rhetoric, devoid of any anti-Americanism, and private outreach to post's officers are encouraging signs that a Banerjee-led West Bengal government will be friendlier to the United States than the current CPI-M one,” the Kolkata Consulate reasoned in an October 20, 2009 cable ( >230353: unclassified ) sent under the name of Consul General Beth A. Payne. “Post recommends USG officials continue to cultivate Banerjee, who has not yet visited the United States, in her current capacity as Railways Minister and the likely next Chief Minister of West Bengal.”
However, the Consulate remained unsure whether Ms. Banerjee had really made the transition from firebrand to able administrator.
The cable, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, offers this interesting assessment: “Skepticism remains whether Banerjee's makeover truly represents a new product — cooler, more level-headed, and willing to accept outside advice — or simply the season's new political makeup. Consensus exists that she is conscientiously trying to transform her image from political maverick and firebrand to a woman ready, able and willing to lead India's fourth most populous state.”
The Kolkata Consulate cable, headlined “Trinamool's Mamata Banerjee: from oppositional street fighter to West Bengal Chief Minister-in-waiting,” described how Ms. Banerjee sought to re-brand herself. “Since the May 2009 parliamentary elections elevated West Bengal's regional party, All India Trinamool Congress, from obscurity to the second largest constituent party in the United Progressive Alliance, its leader, Mamata Banerjee, has conscientiously sought to re-brand herself as West Bengal's Chief Minister-in- waiting. She is using the considerable administrative resources at her disposal as Railway's Minister, political resources as leader of the state opposition party, and personal resources to initiate this transformation. Supporters and critics acknowledge the new image, but question whether it is indeed a new product, or simply new packaging.”
The cable noted that with the backing of a large parliamentary constituency and allied with the ruling Congress party, “Banerjee's Trinamool is well placed to win the 2011 state assembly elections if she can continue along her current path of self-restraint and avoid making any mistakes along the way.”
The Kolkata Consulate appears to have been impressed with Ms. Banerjee's efforts to woo business, notwithstanding the “anti-industry” label she acquired after opposing land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram.
Under a section, “Mamata Courts Industry and Vice Versa,” the cable reported how Ms. Banerjee “assiduously courted Kolkata's business community through outreach and appointment of respected business advisors” to combat her perceived ‘anti-industry' label. “While the business community has not forgiven her for driving Tata Motors small car project out of the state, they are warming up to her, as they too see which way the winds are blowing.”
In a segment titled “Change That West Bengal Can Believe In,” echoing President Barack Obama's “Change we can believe in” election campaign of 2008, the cable said Ms. Banerjee was “inspiring the faithful, and convincing the agnostic, that the Communist Party of India — Marxist's 33 year-uninterrupted rule of West Bengal is set to end.” Describing her as the most popular politician in the State, the Consulate cable added that Ms. Banerjee was widely viewed as the “only one that can lead the charge for change.”
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)