Who will lead opposition? 

Politics is for power and goals keeps changing. West Bengal is a recent example to cite. There was a time when Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee used to join the Union Cabinet to focus on her goal to become the Chief Minister of West Bengal. Now, the scenario is just the opposite. After she came to power in the West Bengal for the third consecutive time with a thumping majority, her eyes have turned towards Delhi. She now eyes the Prime Minister’s chair.

This is no less than a herculean task for a regional leader like Mamata, whose party’s base is mainly restricted to her own State and she knows it too. Interestingly, this isn’t the first time, Trinamool is trying its luck out of West Bengal. In the past, the party had made attempts in many States such as Tripura, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Sikkim, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Kerala, Goa, etc. But it was only in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, that the party got some electoral success, which, however, it failed to retain in the long run. Presently, the party’s major target is Tripura, the only Bengali majority State, apart from West Bengal.

After the strong Bengali identity-centered campaigning done by Mamata and her Trinamool in the recent State elections, it will be rather difficult for her party to woo the voters in the other States. But there is no mistaking that Mamata has national ambitions on her mind. This despite the fact that she lost to her protégée Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram and is still not yet an MLA. There are worries winning Bengal for the third time. By projecting herself as a national leader, her strategy is also to prevent a section of Trinamool voters, who voted for Modi in 2019 but for her in 2021 instead, from voting for Modi in 2024.

It is well known now that people vote differently for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. The 2019 simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Odisha are a glaring example. And that’s perhaps the reason she tried her best this time to deliver her speech for the party’s annual 21st July rally, conducted virtually, in both Hindi and English along with Bengali. The party telecast the rally live in other States such as Gujarat, UP, Delhi, Assam, Tripura, etc.

Besides, days after the event, Mamata, despite not being a Member of Parliament, was elected the parliamentary leader of the party. In her recent Delhi visit, she along with her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, who is now the TMC national General Secretary, met with several key Opposition leaders including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, AAP supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

It can be seen, and quite clearly, that Mamata, with the victory against Modi-Amit Shah team is trying all options possible to make herself visible in national politics. Her meeting with Sonia Gandhi is significant as it is an effort from her side to bridge the gap with the Congress, which she left in 1997 to form her own party. Although later Trinamool allied with Congress several times, the alliance simply didn’t last for long. The West Bengal unit of Congress has been a bitter opponent of TMC and contested this year’s Assembly elections, as well as 2016 elections, along with CPM-led Left Front. However, after Trinamool’s victory, even the Bengal unit of Congress too has softened its stand against Mamata. Importantly, Mamata too needs the help of Congress if she has to play a larger role in national politics. Any anti-BJP coalition without Congress will be a weak one, as only BJP and Congress are the two national parties in the country.

Various regional parties, which feel threatened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP, will not shy from coming together to save their self-interests. But the same principle of guarding self-interests can also break the anti-BJP alliance. Arch-rivals such as RJD-JD(U) and SP-BSP forming alliances to safeguard their self-interests from BJP and subsequently the same self-interests resulting in the breaking of these alliances show that formation of a strong anti-BJP alliance isn’t an easy task. This was seen in Mamata’s recent visit too in Delhi, where there was no meeting with NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, who too appears to be aspiring for a larger national role. Not only this, Trinamool didn’t attend the Opposition meeting led by Rahul Gandhi where many leaders including Pawar himself was present.

Rahul himself has been trying hard to project himself as the most credible anti-BJP rather anti-Modi face. He tried this strategy back in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls unsuccessfully and is in no mood to give up. Mamata somehow doesn’t share the same kind of equation with Rahul as she does with Sonia. On the other hand, there is no denying that Pawar is a shrewd politician. He shares a good bond not only with many Opposition leaders but even with Modi.

However, his age is slowly coming in the way of his national ambition. Also, internal political issues within NCP are a concern for Pawar, who wants to secure his daughter and MP Supriya Sule’s political future within the party as his nephew Ajit Pawar, Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, tries to project himself as the next leader of the party. Nevertheless, Pawar doesn’t give up his goal.

It is said that Pawar, like Mamata, doesn’t share a good relation with Rahul, who too doesn’t share the same with even some senior Congress leaders. However, the recent churnings in Congress-ruled Punjab, where despite Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh strong resistance, his bete noire Navjot Singh Siddhu was made the State Congress President, reveal  the party High Command is trying to assert itself. Both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi are defending their power status, even as mother Sonia tries to maintain status quo in brewing of dissidence.

Aware of these many differences, it is election strategist Prashant Kishore who is being seen as the glue behind the Opposition unity. He too is ambitious. In the recent West Bengal elections, he managed TMC’s campaigning and has good relations with many Opposition parties including the Congress. He doesn’t have any ideology and only works to manage victories — and that’s the reason he is fit for this role.

After its defeat in West Bengal, the BJP, which was expecting to win the State this time, has clearly suffered a blow, which was made worse by the second Covid wave. Just seven months are left for the high-profile polls in Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest number of Lok Sabha seats, 80. It is seen as the key to power in Delhi. The situation prevailing with the mishandling of the second wave of the pandemic appears to be favourable for the Opposition. That’s why  from Mamata to Pawar and Rahul to Kishore all have started to build a broad anti-BJP coalition, though unwilling to sacrifice their self-interests.

2024 is far away alright but scenarios are expected to unfold akin to  a jigsaw puzzle, in which the Modi-Shah team too would be ensuring the applecart is not upset. However, changes in States such as UP, Karnataka, Uttarakhand etc are on the blackboard and when necessary others will take shape. Will the Opposition, be it Mamata or Pawar or Sonia, be able to widen their canvass and take on the big battle unitedly?


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Sagarneel Sinha

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