The anti-BJP grand alliance had been forged with a view to consolidate the so-called secular votes and corner the BJP in 2019 elections. However, significant cracks have emerged within the ambitious alliance. The most obvious and lethal of the rifts is the dispute for leadership between Mamata Banerjee and the Congress represented by its president Rahul Gandhi. While Mamata Banerjee has tried giving the cold shoulder to Rahul Gandhi given his weak leadership and organisational skills. However, Congress has time and again voiced its concerns about this and has made it clear that it will not accept any outside leadership and wants Rahul Gandhi to lead the hyped front.
Mamata Banerjee first hinted at her desire to lead the prospective anti-BJP front followed by desperate advice (almost command) to consolidate the anti-BJP votes. However, her unnecessary advice has not gone down well with the Congress. It has almost become clear that the grand alliance will face troubled waters due to the absence of undisputed leadership.
Even though it was the Congress which had floated the idea of an anti-BJP front it soon became clear that the Congress would not be the dominant ally amongst the opposition parties. In fact, it can be safely said that even though the Congress tried to bring the regional powers at one common stage, these regional powers are not very enthusiastic about keeping the ever depleted Congress in the loop. Soon after the grand alliance had come into picture, Mamata Banerjee went out to extend a hand towards other anti-BJP powers such as NCP chief Sharad Pawar and TRS chief Rao. However, she was found reluctant to visit ailing Congress veteran Sonia Gandhi on the ground that she did not want to disturb her. The fact that non-Congress leaders such as Sharad Pawar and Chandrashekhar Rao do not share very cordial relations with the Congress is out in the open. This has given rise to the speculations of a non-BJP non-Congress front. The joke would be on the Congress which would end up bringing everyone on a common platform only in order to isolate itself from mainstream politics.
The anti-Congress sentiment has been in part fuelled by its dwindling fortunes. No one is ready to play sycophant to someone like Rahul Gandhi who has a horrible track record to start with. Moreover, with Rahul Gandhi becoming the face of the alliance, the contest gets reduced to ‘Rahul v Modi’ narrative. We all saw the result of such a contest in 2014, even as the BJP swept through the general elections. The Congress has only reduced in stature thereafter. It has even started showing signs of a party that is nearing its dissolution. Congress is not only a diminished lot but also a divided lot. It is plagued by infighting and massive ego clashes even among the top leaders. Many of its senior most leaders showed reluctance to press with the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice of India showing that everything is not right within the party leadership and cadres. TMC, though a regional satrap still has predictable dominance in West Bengal even though the BJP is enjoying growing presence in the region. Compared to this the Congress can only boast of its glorious electoral past. It only enjoys some dominance in its bastions but is no longer the pan-India party that it used to be. Its electoral fortunes are highly unpredictable and no one wants to risk their survival by contesting under Congress’ leadership of the grand alliance.
The Congress has not remained silent about this issue. They have tried cornering Mamata and throw her out of the coalition by targeting Mamata Banerjee at the state level. The Bengal Congress chief, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury publicly snubbed Mamata Banerjee making it clear that she should not interfere with internal Congress matters and that it is only Rahul Gandhi who has the right to lead an anti-BJP front. The tussle between Mamata Banerjee and Congress has thus come out in the open. It is suggestive of the fact that the question of a holistic anti-BJP alliance is not even in the picture. The Congress and Mamata Banerjee cannot work alongside with both of them harbouring Prime Ministerial ambitions.
Mamata Banerjee had at first only hinted at her Prime Ministerial ambitions but now she has even started to attempt overwhelming power much to the displeasure of the Congress. On the contentious issue of impeachment motion against Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra she made a veiled attack at the Congress without making much fuss. Instead of showing sympathy for the dismissal of the motion, she admonished the Congress for taking a wrong political move. She further stated that even though she tried to dissuade the Congress from making the suicidal move the Congress leadership was adamant on going ahead with it. The Congress Bengal chief, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tried to hit back at Mamata Banerjee with another very personal comment. He went on to suggest that Mamata Banerjee is hands in glove with the BJP and that she is trying to dislodge an alliance against Prime Minister Modi from inside.
Mamata Banerjee has started meddling with Congress’ internal affairs and at times even admonishing/ sidelining the party which still claims to be the most popular opposition party and the undisputed opposition leader. However, with Mamata Banerjee hinting at Prime Ministerial ambitions the Congress is in a fix. If it leaves the alliance as a protest against Rahul Gandhi being treated as a non-entity it would end up facing a deadly situation where the BJP takes a lion’s share among the voters and the rest being garnered by the other “secular” parties. In such a situation the Congress might plummet further from its 2014 tally. However, if the Congress stops harping on Rahul Gandhi’s leadership it would mean an abject surrender. The Congress will be reduced in status to a third choice. The next general elections might be a lose-lose scenario for the Congress if the grand alliance is hijacked. As far as Mamata Banerjee’s over-ambitiousness is concerned, her claim can only be described as a far-fetched dreamed. Experiments like former Prime Minister Deve Gowda and IK Gujral did not go down well with the electorate. In all probability, the country will not be enchanted with Mamta Banerjee as the Prime Ministerial candidate.