Mamata a bridge over troubled waters?

Nitya Chakraborty

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]engal CM and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee was recently in the capital to hold a series of consultations about the formation of a united Opposition front to oust the BJP from power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. At the Martyrs’ Day rally of the Trinamool Congress in Kolkata on July 21, Mamata gave a call for the unity of all Opposition parties against the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections and announced the holding of a mega-rally at Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on January 19 next year for the ouster of the Modi government.

The Lok Sabha elections are less than nine months away according to normal schedule. The BJP think tank, including the PM’s advisers, is constantly assessing what the best time to go for the polls will be. The RSS leadership, as well as senior BJP leaders, are aware that PM Narendra Modi’s personal charisma has waned to a great extent and the 2014 magic will not work.

All indications, including internal surveys by the BJP, are that the party is going to lose heavily in the coming Assembly elections in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh due in November-December this year. If the BJP fails to retain the governments, a rejuvenated Congress, along with the other Opposition parties, will be in a position to generate a momentum which will sweep away the saffron forces in the Lok Sabha polls due in April-May 2019. Can the BJP leadership afford the Opposition that opportunity?

That is why a big debate is on in the saffron camp about the timing of the elections. One view is that the Lok Sabha polls be advanced to December 2018, along with the Assembly elections.

The Congress and other Opposition parties ideologically positioned against the BJP have a great opportunity this time, as, increasingly, non-Congress Opposition parties are becoming ready to work with the Congress to defeat the BJP. Congress Working Committee leaders have shown an accommodative stance towards the non-Congress Opposition after the first meeting of the reconstituted committee by indicating that, for the Congress, the main job is to prevent the BJP from coming to power and, if there is a hung Lok Sabha after the polls, the Congress is open to supporting any non-Congress Opposition leader as PM.

As of now, the positioning of the Opposition parties in the states is such that there is difficulty in forging a joint front of the Opposition parties, including the Congress, to fight the Lok Sabha polls against the BJP in all states. The best course will be to allow the Congress to take up a dominating position in the states where it is the main party fighting the BJP. There are 12 such states and the Congress, as the major party, can seek some adjustments with the smaller anti-BJP parties to prevent the division of anti-BJP votes.

Then, there are states where the regional parties are supreme and they are fighting the Congress and BJP in state politics. In such states, such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Bengal, there may not be adjustments for the Lok Sabha polls before the elections, but the strategy should be to see that the regional parties support the formation of a non-BJP government if the NDA falls short of majority.

Here comes the role of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, who is friendly with the Congress, as also the regional parties. She earlier made the point that the PM selection will be made only on the basis of the Lok Sabha poll results.

The Congress leadership is now agreeable to this. They have hinted that Rahul Gandhi is their choice for PM, but the party will pitch for it after the polls only based on the results. Mamata, as leader of the so-called ‘federal front’ of regional parties, has to ensure that the TRS and the BJD’s newly elected Lok Sabha MPs support a non-BJP government.

That way, there can be two fronts one UPA led by Rahul Gandhi as before and the other the ‘federal front’ of regional parties. Both may proceed together to achieve the objective of unseating Modi from power.

As former J&K CM Omar Abdullah said after meeting Mamata last week in Kolkata that no Opposition front could be successful without the participation of the Congress, which is the largest single party after the BJP. That is a reality. Among the non-Congress Opposition leaders, Mamata is best placed to act as a bridge between the regional parties and the Congress.

(The author is editor-in-chief of IPA)

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