Free Press Journal

Mamata Banerjee nursing prime ministerial ambitions


The Opposition’s search for unity and a leader to challenge the BJP seems to be proceeding in a rather fitful manner. Every now and then leaders of various parties make moves towards achieving that objective only to come up with known and unknown obstacles. The other day, the Telangana chief minister and leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, Chandrashekar Rao, took the trouble to fly to Kolkata to meet his West Bengal counterpart, Mamata Banerjee, to explore the formation of what he called a federal front against the ruling BJP.

The two CMs were, expectedly, photographed together, though the outcome of their talks was not clear. Rao went back to Hyderabad, without clarifying what lay next for his federal front. A few days later, it was Banerjee’s turn to resume her own efforts towards an omnibus opposition front against the BJP. Upon landing in the national capital the other day, she plunged herself immediately into much-publicised meetings with various Opposition leaders, the most notably with Sharad Pawar of the NCP and Sonia Gandhi of the Congress. Again, whether any progress was made towards reaching the ultimate goal was not clear, though it was stressed that the opposition unity was necessary to challenge Modi in the next general election.

Notably, Mamata Banerjee did not meet Rahul Gandhi, preferring instead to meet his mother, who has ruled herself out from any active role in politics. Also, the West Bengal leader expressed the commonsensical view that for any opposition unity to be meaningful, it would be necessary to keep the Congress in the loop. On its part, the Congress, too, would like the Opposition to come together provided it does so on its terms. The unsaid part is that neither Mamata nor Pawar wants to cede leadership of the proposed Opposition front to Rahul Gandhi. The Congress, too, seems to be reluctantly coming to terms with its reduced circumstances, now talking of ‘a pragmatic unity’ of various non-BJP parties to oust the latter from power in the 2019 election. Another unsaid part in the off-now, on-now unity talks is that both Mamata and Pawar are keen on laying  claim to the prime ministerial ~gaddi.~ Indeed, Mamata, with West Bengal sending 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha, believes that she has a legitimate claim to head any such opposition front or federal front. This, of course, does not take into account the ambitions of other regional satraps like Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav from UP, the State sending the largest component of 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Admittedly, the rival claims for heading the proposed opposition front will depend vitally on the number of seats each aspirant commands in the next Lok Sabha, though Mamata believes that given the woeful state of the CPI (M) and the Congress, she has a good chance of winning a large number of seats from West Bengal. Yet, Mamata’s appeal and acceptability outside her own state remains weak. A couple of years ago, she tried to expand the TMC footprint outside the State, holding a public rally in the national capital, but poor response poured cold water on her ambitions.

How her current exertions to project herself as the leader of an omnibus anti-BJP front will pan out is still not known, given the clashing ambitions of various leaders and the uncertainties of electoral politics. The outcome of the Karnataka Assembly poll will set the template for the Assembly polls that are set to follow in the Hindi heartland. Since the Congress is the main challenger in these States, an unexpectedly good showing by the party can revive the ambitions of the party to lay claim to the leadership of the proposed  anti-BJP front. On the other hand, should BJP do well in these elections, both the Congress and the other Opposition groups will receive a setback from which they may find hard to recover. In sum, the uncertainties of the electoral scene can make the Opposition efforts at forging unity rather difficult. How, for instance, can regional parties like the TDP and the TRP, fight the Congress at the State level and come together at the parliamentary level? Such inherent contradictions do not make Mamata’s job for a common front against the BJP easy. Nonetheless, she should not give up trying.