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Mamata's crusade for unity

Mamatas crusade for unity
Ahead of the 2019 general elections, the effort to unite the opposition parties has once again intensified. The opposition parties are making all-out efforts to unite themselves in their bid to take on the BJP in the next general elections. In this backdrop, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee has arrived in the national capital on a four-day visit. She is expected to spearhead the efforts to unite the opposition parties. Before her, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and former Congress President Sonia Gandhi, have in the past weeks taken initiatives to unite the opposition parties. Mamata Banerjee is expected to avoid a meeting with Congress President Rahul Gandhi even though she is likely to meet Sonia Gandhi. She is expected to make renewed efforts to cobble together an alliance of the opposition parties. She is likely to meet Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal and leaders of some other political parties including those from the Shiv Sena. Mamata Banerjee is one of the few opposition leaders who is comfortably placed as far as her home turf is concerned. Her party had won 211 seats in a house of 295 seats in the Assembly elections held in 2016. The next round of Assembly elections are expected in 2021 and, until that time, there is no threat to her government or her stake to power. She can very well take the lead in uniting the opposition parties, heading them into the 2019 elections. Even if the opposition fails to dislodge the BJP-led NDA government from power in 2019, Mamata Banerjee has nothing to lose as she would remain the Chief Minister of her state well beyond 2019. In this sense, she is one of the most secure opposition leaders in the country. That precisely makes her task to unite the opposition parties much easier. The Congress which has taken similar initiatives in the past does not seem to be able to convince the opposition parties to come together under the fold of a grand alliance. The Congress, which is in power in some states, is in direct conflict with the opposition parties. Punjab and Karnataka, where the party is in power, has AAP and some regional parties as the main opposition parties, which would not like to offer Congress any space at the cost of their own. Similarly, in Telangana, the Congress with 13 seats is the main opposition party in a house of 119. The ruling TRS has 90 seats. It is because of this reason that Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has floated the idea of a People's Third Front, a non-Congress, non-BJP front of regional parties. For the same reason, AAP, too, will keep a distance from the Congress. As a matter of fact, the pan-India presence of the Congress makes it less likely to lead the opposition camp as in most of the states the Congress would have the same parties fighting against it. Mamata Banerjee's decision to avoid a meeting with Rahul Gandhi at this juncture is a sign that she first wants to build a consensus among the opposition parties on the roadmap to creating a grand alliance. That she is in a comfortable position to lead the opposition initiatives is not lost on BJP, which has been trying hard to make inroads into West Bengal. Not only has the West Bengal unit of BJP been revamped and reinvigorated, but they have also consistently tried to push the saffron agenda in the state, leading to a heated political environment. On the occasion of Ramnavami, different Hindu organisations and the BJP took out armed processions at different places in the state even though the state government had put a ban on armed processions. Reacting to this show of strength by BJP, Mamata Banerjee said that in the name of Ram, hooliganism would not be tolerated. She also directed all police chiefs in the district to strictly follow the rules and maintain the law and order. She said that some people are defaming the name of God. Roaming around freely and displaying guns and other weapons is not the culture of Bengal, she said. "I have asked all district police chiefs to book the troublemakers under the Arms Act," she maintained. The armed procession on Ramnavami has sparked communal clashes in the state and at least three people have died in these clashes. Mamata Banerjee's Delhi visit this time around may prove to be one of the most fruitful visits as she holds parleys with a range of opposition leaders. There is every chance that she may emerge as the Prime Ministerial candidate of a united opposition.
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