One person who always makes news politically is West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Popularly known as Didi, Mamata descended on the Indian capital early this week on a whirlwind tour. More than the tour what made news was the purpose of her visit.
Mamata had come calling and meeting whoever mattered in the power circles: from strongman Sharad Pawar to Sonia Gandhi to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and other opposition leaders and even some BJP rebels who are wanting waiting and watching to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s downfall in the next round of general elections next year. Banerjee also met MPs of BJP’s ally Shiv Sena, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter K Kavitha and Lalu Prasad’s daughter Misa Bharti besides MPs from Biju Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
It is true that the BJP fortunes are somewhat on a down slide with the victory wave on the wane. There are some gains and some losses with successive elections presenting a somewhat hazy picture. Even though Telangana Chief Minister K.Chandrashekhar Rao first raised the banner and gave a call for a united front against the BJP, equally Rao does not enjoy the popularity Mamata does. That his move was backed by Mamata is well known but then she was firing from his shoulders.
Rao had suggested forging a non-Congress,non-BJP coalition in national politics. He had said that the alternative being proposed by him would be a ‘people’s front of India’, rather than an amalgam of a few political parties. Before he made this pitch, Rao had met Mamata to discuss and thrash out plans for evolving a coalition of regional parties. Mamata backed him but did not factor in that Rao’s national appeal is rather limited and the move, though sound, needed another face.
Now Mamata has decided to take the lead and move in to challenge the BJP. She has proposed a one on one formula thereby meaning that the united opposition should help the BSP-SP in Uttar Pradesh, DMK in Tamil Nadu, TDP in Andhra Pradesh, TRS in Telangana, RJD in Bihar, BJD in Odisha and so on and so forth. Moves are afoot to get opposition parties to put up common candidates against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Every party Mamata said has to be helped to get together against the BJP: “A mechanism for a one to one fight should be evolved” Mamata is reported to have told the leaders: “All of us should work together to oust the saffron party” she has declared launching an all out war against the BJP. Parties apart, Mamata’s call was also backed by BJP rebels who have been sidelined by Modi. What their role will be is unclear but the meeting in itself assumes significance given that Modi’s dictatorial style of functioning has come under severe criticism. The two Sinhas, Yashwant and Shatrughan have said that they met Mamata to “save the country”. They called these moves “pro nation” even at the cost of being anti party. Both were former ministers in the BJP led coalition before Modi held the reins.
Ofcourse there are views on whether the Front that is in the offing should be minus Congress or with its inclusion. There are problems some regional parties have in taking the Congress along while there is a view that keeping the Congress out would harm the prospect of Opposition unity. A three cornered contest may help the BJP and help it gain rather than a straight contest that could make the going tough for the BJP. Though Mamata has met Sonia Gandhi and proposed that the Congress joins in it seems easier said than done. Also being in the initial stages, the unity balloon promises the potential of a smooth take off though along the road it could be a rocky ride. For one there may be too many claimants for the top job were the Opposition parties to garner numbers starting with Rahul Gandhi. The Congress being the largest opposition party as of now could claim that the Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi be named Prime Minister: a name several outside the Congress would oppose.
But then Rahul Gandhi may not be the only claimant. The Telangana chief minister reportedly believes he fits the bill for the top job despite his state sending a mere 17 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Unlike Gandhi, he has the experience of running a government and has positioned himself as the second “Telangana bidda”, son of Telangana, after the late PV Narasimha Rao. But why only KCR, leaders like Mamata herself and ofcourse Sharad Pawar also have their eyes set on Delhi. Given that she gave the clarion call and is looking at winning most of the Lok Sabha seats from Bengal to emerge as the third largest parliamentary party in 2019, she can throw her hat into the ring. But then Telugu Desam Party chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu too is waiting in the wings and will throw his hat in the ring. Having quit the NDA, he has given a fillip to an anti BJP front. Given his administrative experience, Naidu could emerge as one of the frontrunners in any new Opposition arrangement. Then there is NCP’s Sharad Pawar who has for decades nursed the ambition of being Prime Minister. With Maharashtra having a key role in the elections, and Pawar’s seniority being taken into account, he is a strong contender for the post. Given his friendships cutting across party lines, the chances of his emerging as a consensus candidate are rather strong.
On an objective analysis, only two names make the cut: Sharad Pawar’s and Mamata Banerjee’s. Pawar decidedly is a tall leader and a force to reckon with in his home state, Maharashtra; has the administrative experience and capability of leading the country. His age and frail health could be negatives. As against this, crusader Mamata Banerjee ignites the imagination of young Indians though her temperament and whimsical nature are weak points. Both Pawar and Banerjee have a pan India image and takers across the length and breadth of the country.
Ofcourse it is too early to count one’s chickens or underestimate BJP’s chances. As of now, it may appear to be a bit down but its capacity to bounce back sooner than later cannot be undermined. As against that Opposition unity though the need of the hour and a welcome move is not a cakewalk. Given its contradictions, chances of it crushing under its own weight are rather high. And the BJP ofcourse is ever willing and ready to stoke the fires. Therefore however noble and laudable Mamata’s unity mission may be, she will have to tread softly and with utmost caution lest the BJP pulls the rug from under her feet and have the last laugh. Given its track record it would do what it takes to puncture Mission Mamata.
The writer is a senior Indian journalist. She can be reached at: (firstname.lastname@example.org)