There may be a reason why Mamata Banerjee turned down Chandrababu Naidu’s request to be present at a meeting of opposition leaders to be hosted by the Congress in Delhi just before the declaration of results. The West Bengal chief minister’s disinterest probably stems from the apprehension that her party may not fare as well as she expects in the current polls. Even if the Trinamool Congress wins a majority of the 42 seats, Mamata’s fear is that the BJP will be able to put up its best ever performance in the state.
There is no way, of course, that it will touch BJP president Amit Shah’s estimate of 20-odd seats. But even if it reaches double figures, it will be a sign that the BJP has effectively replaced the Left and the Congress as the Trinamool Congress’s main opponent in the state. It is understandable, therefore, as to why Mamata wants to wait till the results are out. If she manages to fend off the BJP challenge, she will be able to attend the opposition conference in a satisfied frame of mind. Otherwise, her dreams of being a prime ministerial candidate will go up in smoke.
A similar calculation has persuaded Mayawati, too, to turn the invitation. Like the division of the 42 seats in West Bengal between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP, Mayawati’s hopes centre on the 80 seats in UP, of which the BJP had won 71 last time along with two of its ally, the Apna Dal. Mayawati has pinned her expectations on the SP-BSP-RLD mahagathbandhan securing a majority of the 80 seats to put her in a position where she can press her claims to be the PM.
Unlike Mamata, who has hidden her ambition under the cloak of being no more than a “little worker”, the BSP czarina has been more forthright, for she has announced her intention to stand for parliament if she sees a chance of making it to the top at the centre. In her endeavours, she has the support of her political bhatija (brother’s son), the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, who wants someone from UP to be the PM just as there is a feeling in West Bengal that it is time a Bengali attains a post which Jyoti Basu just missed because the CPI(M)’s internal wrangling resulted in a “historic blunder” of denying him the post, as Basu said.
It is possible, of course, that neither Mamata nor Mayawati will come anywhere near ascending the throne because the chances are that the BJP will emerge as the largest party (even if it does not get a majority) and will be called upon by the President to have the first shot at government formation. It is this possibility which the opposition is trying to counter by considering writing to the President to give the largest alliance rather than the largest party a chance to form the government.
However, as Mamata’s and Mayawati’s petulance shows, the opposition continues to be weighed down by the ego hassles of two of its leaders to be able to present a united front. Apart from the Trinamool Congress and the BSP leaders, there is also the Telangana chief minister, K Chandrashekhar Rao, who is also trying to bolster opposition unity while throwing his own hat in the ring by suggesting that the next PM should be from the south.
As these PM wannabes take the field with not-too-subtle hints, it is perhaps time to look at their credentials. It is obvious that neither Mamata, nor Mayawati, has the intellectual sophistication and economic acumen to be a natural contender for the top job. Their basic disqualification is that they can deemed as provincials, who do not have it in them what it takes to preside over the destiny of a diverse nation.
India has already seen how social cohesion and institutional autonomy can take a beating if a party with a blinkered majoritarian outlook attains power, looking at the country through the tunnel vision of Hindu supremacy. In the case of Mamata and Mayawati and even Rao, the blinkers may not be religious in nature, but they will be regional– in fact, restricted to the state-level and caste-based.
What will be missing is a broad vision, transcending provincialism and projecting a modern cosmopolitan outlook– as aspect of national life which is not only absent under the present dispensation, but even mocked for representing the liberalism of the Khan Market and Lutyens zones of habitation.
There is no need to return to similar narrow-minded insular concepts which some of the opposition parties project. Instead, it is imperative that the “idea” of India, which lauds pluralism, is seen as the guiding force, and the party which comes closest to championing it is the Congress, notwithstanding its various faults, including cynicism and corruption.
Amulya Ganguli is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.