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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 35, New Delhi, August 14, 2021

Is Mamata Bannerjee a viable alternative to Narendra Modi? | Tarun Kumar Basu

Friday 13 August 2021

by Tarun Kumar Basu

Is Mamata Banerjee the face of a united opposition in 2024? The Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Bannerjee herself is not sure about the face of the opposition parties, despite her initiative to form a nationwide alliance against the BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Some of the national leaders, except BJP, have aired the name of TMC supremo as the leader of the opposition. The whiz has grown after a landslide victory of TMC against a high voltage assembly election in West Bengal this year. But the buzz and reality is different despite Mamata Bannerjee’s individual charisma and a clean sweep victory against BJP. Her reputation as a politician was built on her role as a “street-fighter,” that was evident several times during the left front regime in West Bengal, an onus that seems to have taken up again as she takes on the BJP in parliamentry election in 2024. Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with interim president of Congress Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi recently sewed up the headlines nationally and the problems of uniting opposition parties against BJP in high voltage election in 2024 sticks here. The current proliferation of initiatives should be streamlined and brought opposition parties including all regional parties under one umbrella. The meeting is significant in the light of the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament where the opposition parties constantly trying to nag the Centre over the controversial farm laws passed in last year and Pegasus interfering row. Mamata Bannerjee also met former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, as well as Congress MPs Anand Sharma, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Arvind Kejriwal of AAP and Sharad Pawar of NCP.

Narendra Modi’s stature grew nationally when he was a Chief Minister in Gujarat and as a candidate of Prime Minister of BJP, easily consummated success in 2014. He had some advantages on that time including his acceptance in the Hindi heartland, given his appropriacy with Hindi. He groomed with this when he was an active RSS "Pracharak" for a long time. He belonged to a gigantic party which has a national presence. He had received the organizational support and guidance from RSS. Narendra Modi has mastered the art of fighting elections for a long time. He has strengthened his power by virtue of his tireless work.

Mamata Banerjee, after a sweeping victory over the BJP, has become an epicenter of culture in the country as a face of opposition parties. She not only got a landslide victory of the most challenging election in her life to become Chief Minister for third time, but also demolished the dream of "Double Engine" Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to capture the state. On the other hand ,TMC (Trinamool Congress) could not spread its tentacles in other states as it is confined to West Bengal. TMC supremo wants to encash the goodwill generated by her victory in order to corner Modi at the national level. Mamata Bannerjee, in compared to Narendra Modi, is lagging behind for her linguistic limitations or speech impediments as far as Hindi is concerned. There are another political deterrent that is most formidable at present in Indian politics is her acceptance as a face of opposition parties to Congress, the party still boast of as an all India party and do not want to decentralize the power from Nehru-Gandhi family. Though before her calculated trip to Delhi, Prashant Kishore, the political strategic partner of TMC had made a ground after meeting with NCP supremo Sharad Pawer with other national leaders for several times, including the members of the Gandhi family. The success of pre poll alliance against BJP will certainly depend upon the attitude of Congress. Although Mamata Bannerjee told in a press conference that she is not a leader, but a cadre and anyone can be leader to fight against BJP in forthcoming general election. Still Mamata Bannerjee is doubtful that about the role of Congress for accepting her name as a face of opposition.

But the fabrication of such a front can also run into difficulty, as Tejashwi Yadav, MK Stalin, Uddhav Thackeray and even Sharad Pawar have Congress as their abettor in their respective states. The main curiosity among the citizens is who leads the opposition is key to the battle in 2024 and it is more important is the need for non-BJP parties to ensure one-on-one contests against BJP in the high voltage general election in 2024. The Opposition parties will have to show the unity and the political leverage in the electoral challenge in Uttar Pradesh in 2022 where BJP is perturbed with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and a strong anti-incumbency against his governance. According to the survey reports revealed by different organization that the popularity of Narendra Modi has been diminished. One - on-one seat sharing is difficult for the united front in UP as Mayawati’s BSP is likely to fight alone. Here is the question of opposition leadership how all the anti-BJP parties come under one umbrella. Uttar Pradesh shows how thorny the opposition unity can be. Mamata Banerjee, may have the glow of defeating BJP in West Bengal, met some top brushes political leaders in Delhi and definitely felt the difficulties of uniting all the opposition parties to fight against BJP. Her Martyrs’ Day speech was made digitized and telecasted in various states including Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Tripura, and Delhi just to show the political muscles she wants to spread all over the country specially against BJP where they are in power. She had made a similar effort to erect a third front ahead of the 2019 general elections as well, but failed due to absence of strong unity among the regional parties and lacked an opposition face to pit against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, “six months is enough” to be united for all the parties and to patch up differences if opposition parties seriously worked together. She commented so as she knows well that this is a mammoth task for any political leader. It is heard that she requested Akhilesh Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal to mitigate the political differences.

Mamata Bannerjee said, “I am not a political astrologer. It depends on the situation. I have no problem if someone else leads,” This is very significant. Is Mamata Bannerjee sceptical about the face of unified opposition? Has she got any early indications for her acceptance to the opposition leaders? Why she told that every after two months she would come to Delhi. Mamata Bannerjee remained ambivalent on being the face of opposition to fight against BJP and said " I am not a politacal leader, I am a simple cadre. Mamata Bannerjee knows that Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress have maintained a distance from the opposition bloc in Parliament, but she has a good relation with both and is hopeful that they may come forward in future.

Mamata Banerjee has an impressive political bio-data. She is seventh times MP, Central Cabinet Minister and Chief Minister for third time. In an incident, the Congress leadership first noticed her when she threw herself on the bonnet of Jayaprakash Narayan’s car of the 1974 Bihar movement. She became more popular when, in 1984, she unexpectedly defeated CPI(M) stalwart Somnath Chatterjee.

Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee, both know that it would be a tough game to bring all opposition leaders to agree on a single name on the issue of leadership. This issue would be an acid test for the opposition in the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh in 2022. Akhilesh Yadav has already announced that he would not have any alliance with Congress as it was a mistake in the assembly election in 2019 and contest almost all the seats in Uttar Pradesh.

Mamata Bannerjee is now more politically groomed than in 2019 and obviously it was possible for pole strategist Prashant Kishore who was not only the political advisor of TMC but also has taken a vital role to unify opposition parties to fight against BJP nationwide. She has a political momentum at her side and it is evident after a remarkable victory in recent assembly election. The grand old party Congress will have to come forward to shrink the state-level difference with other parties and should come out from the arrogance of Nehru-Gandhi family. The arguable point is whether opposition parties will manage to remain together under the tutelage of a common leader for the parliamentary election in 2024.

(Author: Tarun Kumar Basu is a free-lance journalist)

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