In an obvious move to widen the political base of the Trinamool Congress, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has commenced the exercise to rope in leaders from various parts of the country. The objective clearly is that she wishes to get national recognition for her party, which is also seeking to displace the Congress so far as the leadership position of the combined Opposition is concerned. In the process, Mamata has ruffled many feathers in the Congress, which could find itself in a spot once the Trinamool’s move gathers momentum.
To begin with, she is looking towards smaller states such as Goa, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and Haryana to gain the national footprint, even though the choice of inductees in her fold leaves a lot to be desired. Simultaneously, her relationship with Sonia Gandhi and the grand old party would also be affected. She is replicating the activities of Sharad Pawar, who after floating the NCP, had with the help of leaders like P.A. Sangma, Tariq Anwar and a few erstwhile Congress functionaries from Goa, expanded his outreach.
The Congress seems to be imploding with each passing day and it is a matter of time that the party could lose its primary position (amongst the Opposition) even though it has performed extremely well in the recently conducted byelections. The real game shall begin after the Assembly polls next year and if the Congress is routed in Uttar Pradesh, it shall be a huge setback.
What Congress leaders are hoping is that the party should be able to form the governments in both Punjab and Uttarakhand and may also do much better in Goa than any other Opposition outfit. Thus, if that were to happen, it would be difficult to discount the Congress as the nucleus of any sort of federal front against the BJP and its allies.
The irony of politics that is being witnessed is that apart from the BJP and Aam Aadmi Party, even the Trinamool Congress, which is advised by political strategist Prashant Kishor, is seeking to make India Congress Mukt. This has made many veterans in the Congress wonder what Prashant Kishor’s agenda was and who he was working for.
Incidentally, he had assisted Narendra Modi in 2014 in the Parliamentary polls and has since then acted as a consultant to many other parties including those in the South. The calculation seems to be that if Mamata emerges as the principal challenger to Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the southern Chief Ministers such as Jagan Mohan Reddy and K. Chandrashekar Rao and many more leaders who share Congress genetics would back the West Bengal supremo.
The reason why the BJP is sitting very comfortably as the leading political party in the country today is that it commences its Parliamentary campaign with an advantage over the Opposition since it has been winning 90% of the 192 seats where it is directly pitted against the Congress.
It has done reasonably well vis-à-vis other adversaries too, but the head start it gets with the victories over the Congress, makes its overall task easier. Therefore, the biggest challenge for the Opposition is to somehow prevent the BJP from its overwhelming superiority in seats where it contests against the Congress in a straight fight.
It is not difficult to figure out why the Congress is at the receiving end in the Parliamentary polls while it performs much better in the Assembly polls. For the ordinary voter, when the Congress is in the Lok Sabha fray, the image of Rahul Gandhi reflects clearly to them on the ballot and when comparisons take place with Modi, the Congress loses at that very moment. However, when the Assembly elections are held, the Congress Chief Ministerial nominees are easily able to take on the BJP without much difficulty. The biggest example is of Haryana where the BJP won all the ten seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But a few months later, the Congress under the leadership of Bhupinder Singh Hooda was neck and neck with the BJP and its vote percentage increased by at least 10%. Similar outcome was witnessed in other states. In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Congress did well in the Assembly polls in 2018 but in the 2019 Parliamentary polls, it faced a debacle.
The message is that the Congress needs to set its house in order by first settling its leadership question since neither Rahul Gandhi nor Sonia Gandhi has worked for them, and secondly, empower the leadership in states to take firmer decisions which are result oriented.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has taken the field in a big way in Uttar Pradesh, but it is very unlikely that without an organisation she would be able to make any forays, with the battle in the largest populated state turning out to be between the BJP and the Samajwadi Party. If the Congress does not take correctional measures, it shall be wiped out even in Rae Bareli, the party’s stronghold which is currently represented by Sonia Gandhi.
Coming back to Mamata, she of course without any doubt can pose problems for the BJP but she should be more discreet in poaching or including new entrants. Those who have joined her recently, with the sole exception of Sushmita Dev, have no political heft in their own states. Mamata can be the rallying point of the Opposition but needs to be careful about her choices. Between us.