Mamata Banerjee has emerged as the primary challenger to Prime Minister Modi halfway into his second term. However, the question that will be asked of any serious challenger to Modi’s 2024 re-election bid is whether they have a realistic path to the top job. What will it take for a leader like Mamata to reach the 272 mark? For starters, the biggest hurdle is obviously the BJP, which has consistently hit the halfway mark on its own since the advent of Narendra Modi. For any non-BJP leader to even remain in the game therefore, the BJP not being able to hit the halfway mark on its own becomes a prerequisite. However, this is hardly enough. Even in a scenario where the BJP misses the halfway mark, it will have considerable leeway over any challenger since it will have to bring only one or two of the ten odd kingmakers on board, as opposed to any challenger who would need every kingmaker or risk losing all their gains.
In a scenario where the BJP is unable to reach the halfway mark and a brief window does open, the Trinamool Congress would have to be in a commanding position to rally the rest of the opposition behind it. Will the Trinamool be able to win every seat in Bengal? Will the inroads that it makes outside Bengal be enough to convert some of them into seats? In other words, is there any way the party can win around 50 seats on its own? This is even more unlikely than the BJP missing the halfway mark.
Even in a scenario where the BJP does not reach the halfway mark and the Trinamool manages to cobble 50 seats, the question of the balance 220 to 230 seats and how they will be composed remains. If the Trinamool had its way, these 220 to 230 seats would be neatly divided between non-Congress regional parties, with none of them crossing Trinamool’s tally of 50 on their own. And this is where the elephant in the room comes into focus. The DMK, the NCP, the Communists, the SP, the RJD, the JMM, the AAP and the others put together are unlikely to win 220 to 230 seats by themselves, especially without the Congress Party. The grand old party continues to remain the sole alternative to the BJP in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Himachal, and large parts of Karnataka and Assam. So even if many in the opposition are happy about the Congress Party taking yet another hit, the quintessential prerequisite of BJP not hitting the halfway mark is largely dependent on a half-decent Congress performance.
Supposing the Congress wins less seats than the Trinamool. This is an unlikely scenario in the event that 272 remains elusive to the BJP, but let us play along. In such a scenario, the Congress will swallow its pride and put its weight behind Trinamool or anyone else for that matter. But again, let us not forget that even if the likes of Stalin and Lalu Prasad Yadav throw their weight behind Mamata, this unlikely scenario will require the likes of Naveen Patnaik and Jagan Reddy playing ball as well for Mamata to stake claim. In the event that the BJP does not reach the halfway mark, the Congress winning more seats than Mamata is a likelier scenario. As I write this, I realize that I am only building on a load of gas that is completely divorced from ground reality, but if you have come this far, I suggest you keep reading because the following is the scenario that is most entertaining to imagine.
Imagine that Mamata badmouths the Congress for the next two and a half years and cobbles together a third front which does exceptionally well. The BJP is unable to reach the halfway mark. The Congress and the third front, mostly made of former UPA members, get the numbers that allow them to come together and form a government. Only one small problem- the Congress has won more seats than the Trinamool. Will Mamata silently retreat to Kolkata after putting in all the hard work, while Prime Minister Rahul Gandhi runs the country? As things stand today, this is even more unlikely than the BJP not touching the halfway mark or the Trinamool winning 50 seats. Mamata Banerjee will not blink because she has nothing to lose. The Congress Party, after its longest out-of-power stint since independence, would have everything to lose. To keep the BJP out of power, they would probably buckle and even support a non-BJP government from the outside with zero interference if that is what was demanded of them. Mamata has nothing to lose, and she knows this.
I believe this is what drives her today. She has won West Bengal convincingly and it is not going anywhere until 2026. The Congress on the other hand has to face elections in all three states that it rules before the 2024 general elections, and a scenario where the grand old party fights the 2024 elections without a single state government, seems much more likely than many of the other ludicrous scenarios I have put forth in this piece. After emerging as one of the only bright spots in an opposition that lies in tatters, and Bengal 2026 being far away, Mamata knows she has nothing to lose, even though it is unlikely that she will benefit from the prevailing chaos. She also knows that she owes nothing to the Congress Party, a party that she walked out on for not getting her due, a party who’s government she propped up between 2009 and 2014, and a party that has only dragged the opposition down since 2014.
She will go all out, expand her footprint, attempt to make inroads in impossible terrains, and hope that life deals her a good hand. And she will not blink first when it comes to the Congress Party.