Indian political landscape has undergone a lot of changes. BJP is now the principal pole in Indian politics considering its domination and the extent to which it’s spreading from Hindi heartland to the north east. The other side of Indian politics is experiencing a phenomenal vacuum. The opposition is in tatters. Congress party is losing state after state to principally erode itself as the main opposition. Languishing in uncertainty, the opposition players lack a leader like Jayprakash Narayan who can integrate them on a common cause.
However, there is a glaring difference. Indira Gandhi govt of that time nearing emergency was charged of corruption and wholly was becoming unpopular. The same attribute now is missing. Modi govt is popular and for the past three years it has not posted a single corruption scandal or financial scam. The other aspect is lack of cohesiveness in the opposition and that is pertaining to a major lacuna in the leadership. There is fundamentally no strong or tall leader who can match the aura of the PM. A few probable candidates emerged but they were done and dusted.
The Congress party leadership under Rahul Gandhi is going from bad to worse. After losing election one after another, considering the Gandhi scion to lead the grand coalition is out of question. Arvind Kejriwal could have been a candidate but unfortunately his antics and lack of maturity have reduced hopes of AAP emerging as an alternative. Nitish Kumar was a good choice but his decision to break ties with the grand coalition and go with the NDA has come as a rude shock to the prospects of a united front. Nitish Kumar amongst these individuals, Nitish was the most favored owing to his clean image and a moderate outlook with a fierce anti Modi rhetoric. His exit from the coalition has thrown a lot of questions over the future of the front and who will lead the same.
So there is just one name which has enough political will, numbers and firepower to lead the Grand Opposition Alliance. Mamta Banarjee may be the natural choice to lead the pack in 2019.
There is absolutely no doubt she’s positioning her in that possibility. There are reasons as to why she may be suited for this eventuality. She is a fierce BJP critic where she virtually has challenged or questioned all their policies. She has been at the fore front of criticizing the Modi govt which has spearheaded her to lead the bloc.
Secondly, amongst opposition leaders, she is a strong choice and in a better condition compared with other potential candidates. Mulayam Singh and the SP are in unsubstantiated doldrums. Mayawati is invisible. Naveen Patnaik has still not joined the front. Nitish is out. Kejriwal is maintaining low profile and the Left lack a mass leader. Leaders such as Pawar and the NCP have disappeared. The DMK is filled with warring heirs. Of the lot, only Lalu Yadav can stake the claim to be the leader of the front but after Nitish changed tracks, he has lost the plot in Bihar. Lalu has also being fighting personal allegations of corruption including his other members of the family which may throw him out of contention. Mamata Banarjee is still ruling Bengal and recently, TMC even won a few municipal polls. (although there have been accusations of the party winning owing to unfair means) These aspects may bolster her chances of being elevated as the leader of the proposed anti BJP front.
But the pitfalls would be many:
Firstly, Mamata Banarjee lacks that cohesiveness to bring parties together on a platform. Her leadership hues are filled with too much of self centrism which becomes a disadvantage in case of stitching political parties with different ideologies together. The Patna rally called by Lalu Yadav had representatives and leaders of about seventeen opposition parties. Mamata would need to come out of her closet and steer clear to weave an effective bonhomie between so many political parties.
Secondly, she lacks credentials like AB Vajpayee or late HS Surjeet to carry the weight of so many parties and its differences. From 1999 to 2004, PM Vajpayee is credited with completing a full five year term with so many parties owing to his flexibility as a leader and his moderate image. The same was highlighted by Surjeet who brought Left into the UPA. Mamata lacks the same qualities and her bluntness with ego centric approaches would make her a poor choice to lead the front.
Thirdly, Mamata Banarjee is facing multiple problems in her own backyard of Bengal. Her party is facing serious charges of corruption in many scams. May it be Rose valley or Sharda Chit fund and Narada tapes, graft infestation has been immense. Mamata leading the front would dent opposition’s chances as the BJP and the NDA would highlight corruption which is completely devoid in the Modi govt. This will have a ripple effect and the grand coalition would find itself in a very difficult position to explain and even take a stand. Her nephew is accused of corruption and this may result in allegations reaching up to her level. There have even been rumors by some news channels of the party prospectively splitting in future owing to it and this may not reflect well in event of her leading the alliance.
Fourthly, a leader of national stature needs to be well acquainted with the aspirations of the majority. Anti Hindu stances of Mamata are well known in the state of Bengal. Her opposition to Durga puja and her position with respect to Muharram speaks volumes of her appeasement policies. At the national level, it will certainly have an effect on the grand coalition and its attempts to emerge as an alternative to the NDA.
Lastly, even if Mamata has said that she can work with the Left to keep BJP out of the state, a mere alliance of convenience may not really work out well in the long run. We have seen how foes coming together in Indian politics fail to fructify long term associations owing to ideological differences. Mere opportunism may not really aid in helping the opposition with so many players mounting a united fight.
The way political vacuum in the Congress has paved the way for Rahul Gandhi being anointed as a PM aspirant, the same aspect now is visible in the opposition ranks. Mamata Banarjee may not be the result of a choice but just a liability since there is no other leader to fill the shoes. Perhaps political pundits may not give her a good chance but she has made her intentions clear. Amidst notable absentees for the Patna rally, she made her presence very clear.