Will Mamata Banerjee become the face of a united opposition?

Kalyani Shankar

In another attempt to unite opposition parties, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made a whirlwind trip last week to the capital. She met all the right people and made adequate noise about the elusive unity among opposition factions. Yet one question remains. 

Will Banerjee be able to succeed where others have failed? 

Though she is all but ready to challenge Prime Minister Modi in the 2024 polls. 

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Incidentally, this is not the first time she made efforts to unite the opposing entities. She did try forging a third front ahead of the 2019 general elections. Yet, it did not materialize. This bloc also lacked a face to pit against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Above all, a government without the Congress Party is arithmetically impossible.

This time around, Mamata has started early — almost three years before the next Lok Sabha polls. 

“Nothing can be done by a doctor who comes after the patient has died. The patient can be saved if treatment is given on time. Now is your time. The more time you waste, the more the situation will worsen,” Banerjee advised. 

She wants to extend her winning slogan “Khela Hobe” to the national arena.

Of course, after winning West Bengal for the third time in a row, Mamata Banerjee’s stature has risen. Didi has dropped enough hints to signal her readiness for a national role. To prepare for this very role, she came to Delhi.  Her poll strategist Prashant Kishore already prepared the ground for her visit. The national-level hopeful declared, “Regional parties will lead the nation, we will not bow down before anyone anymore. The time has come.”

One of the biggest challenges before the opposition is the presence of a united face against the ruling government before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. There are too many regional chieftains claiming themselves as the face of the anti-BJP front.

Mamata has belled the cat once again. 

Moreover, she now understands that without Congress, an opposition front is impossible. Mathematically, it is difficult to form a government without the grand old party. To cater to the Congress, the Trinamool stalwart met Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi during this trip. 

Though Congress is the oldest national party and been at the helm of power for long, it currently faces too many problems. They include a leadership crisis and weakening of the party. Sonia Gandhi has taken a backseat now due to health reasons. In 2004, she went from one party leader to the other and united the heterogeneous opposition alliance successfully. 

However, her son Rahul Gandhi is still not ready.

The second problem is that the regional satraps are not very keen on accepting Rahul at the forefront of this coalition. Likewise, the Congress is not willing to let any regional chief spearhead any such a union. Moreover, some parties like the BJD, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are neutral. Hence, the emergence of a united opposition emerging before 2024 seems unlikely. 

Mamata has set off speculation about whether she could be the catalyst to unite the opposition parties. One of the regional figures the West Bengal CM maintains good relations with is Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party. Others include her counterparts in Odisha (Naveen Patnaik), Telangana (K. Chandrasekhar Rao), Andhra Pradesh (YS Jagan Mohan Reddy), and Delhi (Arvind Kejriwal). 

During the current visit to Delhi, Mamata seems to have made up her mind to project herself as a mature leader who can be courteous to a bitter political enemy. This was visible when she called on the Prime Minister. The photograph with Mamata greeting with folded hands before a bowing Prime Minister with folded hands has gone viral.

When interacting with the national media, she spoke on similar lines. Keeping the media guessing with her one-liners, she said, “I think all these will happen automatically… I am hopeful” and “I will not lead, the country will lead…We are all followers,” etc.

In her speech, Banerjee took the winning slogan “Khela Hobe” (Game On) to the national stage and declared that a “Khela” would happen in all states before the 2024 elections. This slogan signifies the possibility of a BJP defeat.

The opposition definitely sees a possibility of building up a narrative before the next Lok Sabha polls and upcoming Assembly elections in many states. “In politics, there are times when we all have to bury our differences and come together for the sake of the country. This is that time,” she said. 

Regardless of the outcome, Didi is determined to be in the game. She has defined the fight as a country versus Narendra Modi.  The strategy is to first unite the opposition parties first, find a suitable narrative acceptable to all, and think of a leader later.

Kalyani Shankar is a senior journalist and analyst based in New Delhi. 

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