Mamata the peacemaker
In coordinating efforts of UPA and the federal front, Mamata Banerjee could emerge as a key player.
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee is in the capital for three days to hold a series of consultations about the formation of a united opposition front to oust BJP from power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. At the Martyr's Day rally of TMC in Kolkata on July 21, Mamata announced a call for the unity of all opposition parties against the BJP for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and also announced a mega rally in Kolkata at Brigade Parade Ground on January 19 next year for the ouster of the Modi government. She said that she would be inviting all anti-BJP parties at this rally, including Congress and CPI(M), to facilitate the process of building a solid opposition unity.
The Lok Sabha elections are less than nine months away as per the normal schedule. Senior leaders are aware that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's personal charisma has waned to a great extent and the 2014 magic is unlikely to replicate itself. The NDA government's performance during the last four years has not brought unremarkable relief to the common man, many of whom had voted for BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Incidents of communal violence have recorded a steep rise and there is a pervading sense of insecurity in the country.
All indications, including internal surveys carried out by BJP, suggest that the Party could lose heavily in the upcoming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh due in November-December this year. If BJP fails to retain the governments, the 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 poll due in April/May 2019. Can the BJP leadership afford the opposition that opportunity? A big debate is underway among the current leadership about the timing of the elections. One view is that the Lok Sabha poll should be advanced to December 2018 along with the Assembly elections. If that finally happens, the current Monsoon session will be the last session of Parliament in its present term.
Congress and the other opposition parties who are ideologically positioned against BJP have a great opportunity this time as, increasingly, the non-Congress opposition parties are becoming ready to work with Congress to defeat BJP. Congress Working Committee leaders have displayed an accommodative stance to non-Congress opposition after the first meeting of the reconstituted committee by indicating that for Congress, the main job is to prevent BJP from coming to power in the 2019 poll and if there is a hung Lok Sabha after the polls, Congress is open to supporting any non-Congress opposition leader as the Prime Minister.
As of now, the positioning of the opposition parties across states is such that forging a joint front of the opposition parties, including Congress, to fight the Lok Sabha polls against BJP will be difficult. The best course will be to allow Congress to assume a dominating position in the states where Congress is the main party fighting BJP. There are 12 such states and Congress, as the major party, can seek some adjustments with the smaller anti-BJP parties to prevent the division of anti-BJP voters. This is very important for marginal seats and by now, Congress should know that such adjustments will be of a big help to Congress in reducing BJP seats. Then there are states where the regional parties are supreme and they are fighting both Congress and BJP. In such states, like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, and West Bengal, there may not be adjustments for 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 the majority.
Here comes the role of the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee. Mamata is friendly with both Congress and the regional parties. She earlier asserted that the Prime Minister's selection will be made only on the basis of the Lok Sabha poll results. The Congress leadership is now in agreement to this. They have hinted that Rahul Gandhi is their choice for PM but the Party will pitch for it after the poll only based on the results. Mamata, as the leader of the Federal Front of the regional parties, has to ensure that TRS and BJD's newly elected Lok Sabha MPs support the non-BJP government. Both the Telangana CM Chandrasekhar Rao and the Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik are fighting Congress in their states. They may like to be a part of the Federal Front but might have reservations about supporting a Congress-led government. Mamata has to use her charisma to win them over to ensure the successful formation of 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 the regional parties. Both may proceed together to achieve the objective of unseating Narendra Modi from power. As former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister 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 Congress. The unity in action of the regional parties and Congress is the only guarantee for ensuring the exit of the Narendra Modi Government after 2019 Lok Sabha poll. And yes, the united opposition after Lok Sabha elections can make that possible.
(The author is Editor-in-Chief, IPA. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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