Didi, the torch-bearer for opposition unity?

Anil Anand

Mamta Banerjee was sworn as West Bengal chief minister for the third consecutive term after sweeping the Assembly election despite being pitted against heavy odds mostly in terms of formidable rival BJP. She was sworn-in in the backdrop of sporadic incidents of violence which the BJP leaders alleged targeting of their workers by the Trinmool Congress cadres as an act of “revenge”. Revenge for victory? The charges were already flying thick and high even before she could take oath with the ever-aggressive BJP leaders not only boycotting the swearing-in ceremony to protest against what they decided as the “murder of democracy”. The double-shade backdrop- Ms Banerjee humbling the mighty BJP and the party acting as a bad loser to resort to their usual pressure building tactics within no time, and secondly she emerging as the front-ranking leader in the opposition grouping to script their future politics- makes the script interesting. How to interpret just concluded West Bengal Assembly elections in terms of futuristic contours of country’s polity with a terminally ill opposition camp hoping to get resuscitated? The question has attained more validity now than at any time during the last seven years of uninterrupted and successful, barring an instance here or there, run of BJP’s poll juggernaut or ‘Ashavmedha yagna’. The ‘Ashav’ (horse) has been caught resoundingly in the West Bengal electoral battle which had some semblance of similarity with the epic ‘Mahabharta yudh’ mostly in terms of the formation of the rival armies. On the lines of the epic war wherein the high and mighty powerful ‘Kaurva’ army replete with full resources fought against a constrained ‘Pandavas’ who though deficient on resources were rich on strategy and sanity, the West Bengal polls witnessed a similar line-up. Is impressive victory of the lone crusader Trinmool Congress chief, Mamta Banerjee, against the combined might of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister, Amit Shah, a shot of adrenaline for the opposition? The answer is yes? Combined with the victory of Stalin led DMK in Tamil Nadu, it has also send a strong signal of once again rising might of the regional satraps with others such as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo, Sharad Pawar, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president, Naveen Patnaik, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s ailing chief, Lalu Prasad Yadav and a couple of others already waiting in the wings. Given her performance in West Bengal where she led from the front, Ms Banerjee has thrown the proverbial hat in the arena, to be the leader of the pack. Though mercurial in nature she has the capacity and experience to gather the egoistic regional leaders together. Such a situation puts the Congress in an odd situation with the party’s dismal performance in the four Assembly and one Union Territory (Puducherry) Assembly elections providing it a face-saver to refrain from claiming leadership of any opposition front. Will her personal equation with beleaguered Congress’ interim president, Sonia Gandhi prove handy in bringing the over a century old party to the corner and accept the ground realities? Congress had accepted such an ignominy four times in the past by supporting Chaudhary Charan Singh, Chandrashekher and later H D Devegowda and I K Gujaral to the Prime Minister’s chair through outside support. It was at a time when the party’s erosion had just started and these fallacious tie-ups had in fact hastened the process. The marked difference currently is that it is the BJP and not Congress, which is on the high and dictating political terms with immense popularity of Modi being its strong point. Another difference is that in earlier cases the Congress which had been out of power for a short while had become restive to stage a comeback in the power corridors. So stopgap machinations that though brought the party back to power but caused immense damage to its image. From the Congress perspective the situation is drastically different currently. The fight for the party as well as the regional satraps opposed to the BJP is simply to check the saffron party’s surge and put in place a formidable alternative before 2024 Lok Sabha elections. This is more to overcome the existential crisis threatening these parties particularly the Congress than even to think of replacing Modi at the Centre at this juncture. The street-fighter image of Ms Banerjee has stood her in good stead against an aggressive and power packed ModiShah duo. Up till now Modi seemed invincible and his Midas touch in the form of his impressive and fiery- oratory accrued dividends in election after election, till the West Bengal happened. The first challenge for the opposition unity, as has been in the past, would be the acceptance of Ms Banerjee’s leadership at least for heading a front if not as the Prime Ministerial candidate which is too distant and far-fetched at this moment. On this count, she seems to have a lesser challenge on two counts- firstly her impressive poll victory which puts her ahead of others, and affective leadership as she not only matched Modi move by move but at times was strategically much ahead of the resourceful BJP. Secondly, she has almost no challenge from any other regional leader to lead the front and even Congress currently in tatters should not have any problem on that count. Although Ms Banerjee had single-handedly overthrown the powerful Left Front having many veteran leaders in its ranks to end their over threedecade rule, she was always known for her fighting skills and impeccable image, but the 2021 Assembly election victory, third in the row for her, has certainly elevated her to a different level in the country’s polity which has been fast drifting to a unipolar syndrome with opposition parties either being defeated at the hustings or broken and split. The task to head a national front would not be easy for her as that would require her full attention at the national levels. Given the challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and clear indications that the BJP which has emerged as the main opposition party in the state, would keep her busy with their shenanigans and ensure her confinement to West Bengal, she would have to test her spirits afresh. Whatever be the challenges on ground for opposition unity, the West Bengal poll outcome has given a strong reason to the opposition parties to work towards cobbling an alternative at the national level who otherwise were squirming under the onslaught of Modi-charisma and not knowing what to do. It has also provided an answer to an often asked question as to who among the opposition leaders has the capacity to stand up to Mr Modi. The answer lies in Ms Banerjee’s gritty performance and her determination to take the BJP leaders on both individually and collectively. feedbackexcelsior@gmail.com