Can Didi become the Dada of the national opposition? Mamata has advantages, but its disadvantages are more formidable
Mamata Banerjee as the face of a united opposition in 2024? The buzz around her has grown since she beat the BJP in the high-stakes Bengal poll battle.
But there is buzz and there is a harsh political reality.
Of course, Banerjee has an impressive political CV. The congressional leadership first noticed her when she threw herself on the hood of Jayaprakash Narayan’s car during the height of the 1974 Bihar movement. Her defining moment came in 1984 when she won. unexpectedly the mainstay of CPI (M) Somnath Chatterjee.
She left Congress and formed her own party in 1997. Many thought that meant she would play the second fiddle. But she won Bengal in 2011, toppling a leftist regime entrenched for 33 years. The Trinamool Congress has taken over the Congress space in Bengal. Banerjee did what no other leader who left Congress had succeeded in doing.
There is also a class angle. Banerjee was the first leader from an ordinary background to reach the top, becoming a symbol of the state’s subordinate aspirations. Significantly, the poorest sections have stood by his side even in the recent elections. His rise meant a kind of devolution of power. Because, since independence, the leadership of Bengal was in the hands of the “bhadraloks”, whether Bidhan Roy, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Jyoti Basu or Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.
This is all to his advantage. But it faces formidable drawbacks. Compare her to another CM who became the PM candidate for an opposition party.
Narendra Modi was CM when his stature grew nationwide. And as the BJP’s PM candidate, he won easily in 2014. But he had some advantages. He was accepted into the heart of Hindi, given his bliss with Hindi, which he had perfected over decades as a pracharak RSS. He belonged to a national party, the BJP. He had the organizational support of RSS, from the stand at the national level, in a way never seen in any election before 2014.
With his party confined to one state and given his linguistic limitations with regard to Hindi, Banerjee does not have these advantages. In fact, even more than his lack of mastery of Hindi, Trinamool’s non-national presence is a formidable handicap.
And there are other political obstacles. Most crucial: Will Congress accept him as the face of the opposition? Answer: unlikely.
Despite all the problems it faces, the GOP would not want anyone other than a congressional leader to be screened as the prime minister’s candidate. Regional parties are virtually non-existent in states where Congress opposes the BJP. And these states represent just under 200 seats in Lok Sabha – constituencies of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and ‘Assam.
If he is not the leader of the entire opposition, can Banerjee become the “chehra” of a front of regional parties? Some regional satraps believe they should go ahead and create a “federal front” and deal with Congress later, depending on the post-poll strength of the two entities.
But the creation of such a front can also run into difficulties, given that Tejashwi Yadav, MK Stalin and even Uddhav Thackeray-Sharad Pawar have Congress as an ally in their respective states. Much will then depend on the attitude of Congress towards opposition unity.
Who leads the opposition is the key to the battle in 2024. More importantly is the need for non-BJP parties to ensure head-to-head fights against the BJP.
This was an important reason for Banerjee’s success in West Bengal. Some believe that the voters of Bengal effectively converted multipolar competitions to bipolar competitions, wiping out Congress and the left in the process, resulting in the fine victory for Trinamool.
The opposition parties will face their next real challenge to the UP in 2022. Some opposition leaders believe that there is strong opposition in power against Yogi Adityanath. But a united front in UP seems difficult. Mayawati’s BSP should fight alone. Will other opposition parties manage to forge a front despite the reservations previously expressed by some key leaders?
UP shows how problematic the unity of the opposition can be. Thus, the question of the leadership of the opposition remains delicate and delicate. Banerjee can have the brilliance of defeating BJP in his own state. But the diabolical complexity of Indian politics means that there is no guarantee that the path to Delhi goes through Kolkata.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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