Riding on the back of her party’s landslide assembly poll victory, TMC boss and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has given a clarion call for opposition unity to topple the Narendra Modi government in 2024 Lok Sabha polls, but experts are of the view that optimism, for now, needs to be tempered, given the challenges anti-BJP forces have faced in the past.
The TMC supremo, who has emerged as the doughtiest opposition face after winning one of the toughest elections of her career, apparently seeks to take up a larger role in national politics, and is expected to use her tried-and-tested strategies to confront the saffron camp in 2024.
During her annual address at the party’s Martyrs’ Day rally earlier this week, which was delivered in Hindi, English and Bengali, Banerjee asked the opposition leaders to unite and start working towards the formation of a ‘Gathbandhan’ (alliance) right away.”No one can deny that Mamata Banerjee has emerged as the nucleus of opposition politics. If you go through her speech, you will know that she wants to cumulate anti-BJP votes and create a people’s alliance against the saffron party,” TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh said.
A senior TMC leader, who did not wish to be quoted, said Banerjee has given an early call for opposition unity, going by her experiences of 2014 and 2019, when lack of leadership, unity and coordination in the opposition camp helped the BJP hit the jackpot. “During 2014 and 2019, efforts to cobble up a united front didn’t work out as the initiative was taken a few months ahead of the polls. That didn’t evoke a sense of acceptance among the voters. This time, we want to iron out all differences and start the process well ahead of time,” he said.
Although the TMC leadership is hopeful of creating a strong anti-BJP front, with Banerjee at the helm, it will be an uphill task for her camp to convince all opposition parties to put aside their political differences and work for the common cause. A the moment, however, the Mamata Banerjee-led party has poll strategist Prashant Kishor and I-PAC by its side, much to her advantage. I-PAC played a vital role in ensuring TMC’s victory in assembly polls.
The party last month extended its contract with the team till the 2026 assembly polls. Kishor, who recently met NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra, is striving to organise a meeting between Banerjee and other opposition leaders during her scheduled visit to Delhi next week.
According to political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty, the TMC will be able to take advantage of Kishor’s rapport with leaders of various parties to bring them to the table. “What turned out to be the biggest drawback of opposition parties in 2019 was dearth of a common strategy to counter the BJP’s campaign. With poll strategists like Prashant Kishor by TMC’s side, it will be comparatively easier for Banerjee to bring them all on one platform,” he said.
Chakraborty pointed out that Kishor had managed to bring together RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar and the Congress during the 2015 Bihar elections. The country-wide media hype created by the BJP central leadership over Bengal elections by pitting it as a Modi versus Mamata battle’ has only helped the feisty TMC boss establish herself as the leader who can stop the saffron party’s juggernaut that had been rolling since 2014, he said.
“The BJP, in a way, helped Mamata Banerjee project herself as the most powerful opposition leader by the country-wide hype it engineered over Bengal polls. Also, the way Muslims in Bengal have voted en-bloc for the TMC reflects that minorities trust her when it comes to fighting the saffron camp,” Chakraborty pointed out. Sixty-six-year-old Banerjee’s experiences as a three-time chief minister, seven-term parliamentarian, two-time railway minister, besides her brief tenure in coal and sports ministry, give her an edge over many potential leaders who are willing to steer the anti-BJP front in 2024.
The proposal to build an anti-BJP front, however, has its own pitfalls in the absence of a Common Minimum Programme (CMP), a pan-India appeal and a national template. According to poll observers, the qualms of certain regional leaders over Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s leadership abilities could dampen the efforts to build a united opposition alliance as it is literally impossible to create a front without the grand old party acting as glue, on the account of its pan-India presence.
The Congress, which has been out of power since 2014, still commands twenty per cent vote share, as per 2019 results, and it is either in power or the main opposition party in at least 19 states. Political analyst Suman Bhattacharya underlined that the “Modi government’s popularity is at an all-time low” and the opposition camp needs to make the most of this opportune moment to change the narrative in its favour.
“The political situation now is very different from that of 2019 as the BJP government’s popularity is waning over its handling of the economy and the COVID situation. At the same time, the opposition alliance needs to have a face. And the Congress got to be part of this alliance,” political analyst Suman Bhattacharya said. Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury also feels that no alliance would have pan-India credibility against the BJP if his party does not extend its support to it.
“Mamata Banerjee isn’t saying anything new; our leader Sonia Gandhi has been iterating this over the last few years. It was the Congress that acted as the glue for the opposition parties and twice defeated the BJP in 2004 and 2009. If somebody thinks he or she can defeat the BJP without taking the Congress into confidence, the person is living in a fool’s paradise,” Chowdhury, the state president of the grand old party, asserted.
Listing the challenges that the opposition camp might have to encounter, political scientist Udayan Bandopadhyay said several parties have a questionable track record when it comes to opposing the BJP. He also noted that the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls might turn out to be a game-changer.
“If the BJP falters in UP, it will hasten the process of creating the opposition front. If the saffron party manages to win big, things could go back to square one,” he claimed. Making light of TMC’s efforts to build an anti-BJP front, Dilip Ghosh, the saffron party’s state president, said Mamata Banerjee and her team are daydreaming.
They will have to face a rude shock after 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The TMC should have learnt a lesson or two from its 2019 performance when its tally dropped from 34 to 22, he added.
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