Yet another survey in #India has said that its Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to be the country's most popular leader. Irrespective of what his government has done since May 2014, the voice in his favor has overwhelmed the one against him. The survey respondents have a clear counter question: Who else if not Modi?

It is indeed a fact that India has no other leader at the national level who can match Modi's stature now. The relegation of the Gandhi family, which dominated India’s political scene for a long time, has made it easier for Modi. The next Gandhi who everybody had hoped to deliver – Rahul – couldn’t deliver despite pushes  and the political equation in the country has been reduced to ‘Modi versus the rest’.

Mamata Banerjee has evolved fast

But there is one leader in India who is making a decent progress from the regional to the national and she is a woman named Mamata Banerjee. Modi’s battle now is against the regional satraps in a country where the federal structure is increasingly becoming a balanced battle between the Centre and the states. Despite winning the national election of 2014, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has not been able to defeat regional leaders like Mamata, J Jayalalithaa, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, Naveen Patnaik, and the likes.

The scenario seemed balanced till now with Modi dominating at the Centre and the rest their respective citadels. But now, it seems a trend is emerging whereby a regional leader can seriously challenge Modi in the general election of 2019.

Mamata wiped out the Left, her traditional rival

The biggest reason for expecting such a development in Indian politics in the near future is Mamata’s steep rise over the last few months.

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Despite heavy odds, the leader single-handedly gave her party – the Trinamool Congress (TMC) – an overwhelming victory in the Bengal elections in April-May. Mamata’s second consecutive electoral victory was not only historic in terms of the numbers but also because it virtually finished off the Left in a state which it had continuously dominated for 34 years. For Mamata, chasing the national ambition was the logical choice she had after winning everything in her state and she is doing just that.

The historic Singur verdict

Mamata Banerjee’s second major victory came last month when the Supreme Court of India ruled that the acquisition of land for the much-controversial Singur car factory by the erstwhile Left government was illegal. This was big for Mamata, who had fought tooth and nail against the project to establish her pro-poor image. The middle-class had then accused her of hampering Bengal's industrial progress. But the latest court verdict gave the chief minister a psychological victory.

Post verdict, a clever Mamata invited the Tatas, who withdrew from Singur following political problems, to return to Bengal. She showed that like she is with the farmers who lost their land, she also values the aspirations of the middle-class which hopes to see an industrial turnaround. Mamata’s trip abroad to woo investors soon after the Singur verdict also helped her cause.

This development is important for Modi is often criticized as a leader who caters to the rich and the right-wing. The collapse of the centrist Congress party, on the other hand, saw the space for an alternative political stand diminishing fast. Mamata, with her pro-poor and secular image, looks strong to fill that vacuum.

Mamata's party gets national recognition

Mamata’s third major success came when her party got the 'national party' status. For a regional party, this acts as an advantage on the national stage. No other regional leaders has matched the pace with which 61-year-old Mamata has progressed towards the national stage. As a former national minister who is not new to the power corridors of New Delhi, Mamata has given a lot of thought into organizing her moves towards the national goal.

In 2019, India is all likely to witness a battle between two 'M's – and it will be an exciting contest. #MamataBanerjee #NarendraModi