Ever since the Monsoon session of the parliament began, the political theatre in New Delhi has been at its peak. Fresh off a victory in the Assembly polls, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has landed in the capital with renewed vigour to take on a much more central role in preparation for the 2024 General elections. As a result, the TMC leader met the Gandhi family and in a press conference later, sounded optimistic about a united front of the opposition.
She said, “Sonia ji invited me for a cup of tea and Rahul ji is also there. We discussed Pegasus and the Covid situation in the country. We also discussed the unity of the opposition. It was a very good meeting, positive meeting. To defeat the BJP, everybody needs to come together. Everyone will have to work together,”
Mamata being unusually chirpy has been signalled as an endorsement by the Gandhi family to project her as the opposition face, according to some political pundits. But, many have ruled out such a possibility saying that anything about a united opposition at this stage is just for optics.
However, the fact that Mamata has met Sharad Pawar, Arvind Kejriwal and several other regional party leaders in a whirlwind tour, at some intrinsic level, suggests that she is seriously going about her business and that something peculiar is cooking amongst the opposition.
Reportedly, Mamata has drawn out a plan for the opposition to take on the tidal Modi wave. The TMC supremo has planned a three-pronged approach where the numerous opposition parties will be allowed to breathe and contest against Modi. However, a close look at it suggests that if Congress adheres to this approach, it could be obliterated from the face of Indian politics
With the first approach, Mamata is planning to throw Congress in a solo fight against the BJP on the 200 odd seats where both parties have a direct competition. The regional parties will be stopped from competing to make the contest a two-way street only. While it looks like a brilliant idea on paper, the on-ground reality could differ starkly.
Congress is at the wane of its powers, it won 52 seats in 2019 after competing across the country. Imagine, a Congress reduced to a mere 200 seats, and not having other parties to cut the BJPs vote share and voila, you have the heady concoction of a defeat which could restrict the grand old party to a measly 20-30 seats, in a good case scenario.
In the second approach, Congress takes a back seat in states such as Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal, where the opposition is scattered. Mamata will try and bring them together to fight against BJP. Congress might get few seats for its leaders to contest as an afterthought from Mamata but it would still be considerably lower than what it would have in its hand otherwise, if it would have contested solo.
Speaking about her equations with the Opposition leaders that could come under her second approach, she said, “I have good relationships with Jagan (Mohan Reddy), Naveen babu (Patnaik), Chandrababu (Naidu), (MK) Stalin, Uddhav (Thackeray), Hemant Soren.”
In the third approach, the regions where the BJP is weak, for example, the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Mamata is expected to give a free rein to the parties to contest the elections as they are already doing.
Congress relies on the crutches of DMK in Tamil Nadu and fighting against the Left in Kerala is a lost cause. The entire point of opposition unity was to make sure each party increases its seats. However, by not even fighting on all seats and then being forced to fight on unwinnable seats, Congress is penning its own doom.
Moreover, Mamata understands that the Gandhi clan cannot be trusted. Whenever Congress has used coalition politics to build itself back, the party has stabbed its coalition partners in the back mercilessly. Whether it be the 1980 LS elections or the confusing coalition era of 1996-1999, Congress has always pulled its support back at crucial times.
Mamata understands that beating PM Modi on the national stage is a different kettle of fish. The assembly election victory amounts to nothing and in all possibility, the NDA will storm to power once again. However, the biggest way Mamata can catapult herself to the top of the political echelons of the country is by replacing Congress as the national party, and by becoming the ultimate opposition face. If Congress cannot read Mamata’s game plan behind the model, then its downward spiral into oblivion has already begun.