Urging all opposition parties to unite against the BJP for the next Parliamentary elections, the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee visited the national capital to make exploratory moves for the formation of a new federal front. Although she was reluctant to divulge the details of her proposed idea, yet it is evident that by taking the lead to establish the new avatar of the UPA, she is determined to carry the fight into the saffron brigade’s camp.
Mamata has spelt it out in crystal clear terms that it was going to be “Khela Hobe” (the game will be on) outside Bengal as well and that she was hopeful that the theme of the 2024 polls would be Narendra Modi versus the rest of the country.
Despite taking the lead in the forging of an Opposition unity, she explicitly stated that she was not a contender for leading the front, whose contours and shape would be defined only after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections next year. A shrewd politician, she does not wish to get involved in the leadership debate even before the new group has been formed.
Mamata is aware that the NCP supremo, Sharad Pawar would throw his hat in the ring once the Front takes a concrete shape, but both his health and the game of numbers may not work out to be in his favour ultimately. The UP outcome would be a test case of the BJP’s popularity in terms of electoral arithmetic and could have a bearing on the future course of political developments.
During her short visit to Delhi, Mamata had a 45-minute meeting with the Congress interim president, Sonia Gandhi and subsequently also met the Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, with whom she shares a close bond. Earlier she met two of her old Congress friends, Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma to discuss the political environment in the country.
The thinking amongst the Opposition leaders, rightly or wrongly is that the Prime Minister’s popularity was diminishing. There were two kinds of people who had been backing him—Modi Bhakts, whose commitment to the Prime Minister remains unflinching and Modi supporters (other than Bhakts) whose number was going down due to various factors. The UP polls would give clarity on multiple issues, including whether the BJP’s influence in the most populous state in the country was on the decline.
In fact, if the BJP’s numbers get greatly reduced in UP, the Presidential election to be held next year, could be the first confrontation between the combined Opposition and the ruling dispensation. Winning UP and keeping control of the Indo-Gangetic region was paramount to the saffron brigade’s further plans. It is purely on this score that the RSS has been taking a lot of interest in the state and its newly appointed Sarkaryavah, Dattatreya Hosabale has made Lucknow as his base instead of Delhi or Nagpur.
Mamata’s biggest dilemma would be on how to take the Congress on board in the proposed Federal Front. Till now the Congress was spearheading the Opposition parties in the UPA and Sonia Gandhi continues to be the chairperson of this formation. However, under the present circumstances, she or any of the Gandhis may not be acceptable to lead the new combination, although it is a fact that no Opposition front can succeed without the Congress being its integral part.
There are senior Congress leaders such as Kamal Nath and Bhupinder Hooda who if chosen to lead their party, could be potential chairpersons but would the Gandhis allow that to happen? The second option was to have Mamata as the pivot and because of her Congress lineage, every partyman, past or present would accept her leadership. This list could also include Jagan Mohan Reddy, K.C. Rao and many others.
The leadership issue will be a tricky affair and if no consensus is reached, Modi and Shah would not sit back but expose the Opposition for its anti-government tirade without a proper narrative or agenda. Both Modi and Shah have very strong political instincts, which have helped them overcome many major political battles in their career.
What could work in Mamata’s favour is that she has just humbled the two topmost BJP warriors in the Battle of Bengal. She is a Brahmin and a woman of great conviction, two points which would make her acceptable throughout the length and breadth of the country. She has political gravitas; was recently elected for the third time as the CM. In the past, she has many electoral victories to her credit including the one against CPI(M) stalwart Somnath Chatterjee in the 1984 Parliamentary elections. Incidentally, this was the only time the Left leader ever lost a poll in his illustrious career.
Mamata would be also expected to manage the contradictions within the Opposition ranks but that would happen only closer to the 2024 battle, billed as Modi vs the rest of the country. If Sonia Gandhi had forged the Opposition unity after the July 2003 Congress conclave, Mamata perhaps is the only one who can do it now. She has the credibility and the political experience. The difference between then and current scenario is that polity was not as sharply divided as it is now. This is something which has also caused concern in RSS circles.
In this endeavour, Mamata could face many hurdles from within the Opposition ranks. However, she is a fighter who would not give up. Between us.