By Barun Das Gupta
Mamata Banerjee has decided to stay away from the meeting of opposition leaders called by Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on Monday. She is annoyed with the role of the State Congress and the CPI-M. These parties are constantly carping at her and her party and questioning her credibility as a real opponent of the BJP. They are calling the TMC “B-team” of the BJP.
Mamata’s bitterness for the Congress and CP:I-M became more acute after they actively participated in organizing the bandh call on January 8 to protest against the CAA, NCR and the Centre’s anti-labour policy. Mamata, like them, is also dead opposed to the Centre’s move but she is against the bandh culture. She has also blamed both the parties for the violence that took place on the bandh day in West Bengal. She has accused the Congress of being behind the violent incidents at Sujapur in Malda district on the bandh day.
Mamata’s attitude to the Congress and CPI-M is that you cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hound. You have to decide whose side you are on.
She may have some self-justification for her stand. But there is a flip side to it also. First, Sonia Gandhi called the meeting of the opposition leaders at her instance. Now, her staying away from the meeting because of her tiff with the Congress and the CPI-M at the State level will send a negative message to the participating parties. In particular, it will be embarrassing for Sonia who has always had a soft corner for Mamata.
Also, it should be evident for Mamata that the Congress cannot be excluded from any credible and effective opposition block against the BJP. The TMC is a State party while the Congress has an all-India presence. That apart, the Congress has started coming out of the long political hibernation it had lapsed into and is showing signs of a strong revival. In UP, it is the Congress which is fighting the BJP while Mayawati and Akhilesh have preferred to remain mum.
In the recently held student union elections to UP’s Sampurnananda Sanskrit University in Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the NSUI made a clean sweep. The ABVP had to kiss the dust.
The story was no different in far away Nagpur. In the Zilla Parishad elections, the BJP got just 15 of the 58 seats while the Congress won 30. The remaining seats were shared by other parties. Incidentally, Nagpur is the home district of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. Nagpur is also the headquarters of the RSS.
The electoral strategy of the Congress has also changed. It has become more receptive to the idea of forging unity with other like-minded parties and is prepared to be a junior partner in the governments run by opposition parties. The first instance was Karnataka where the Congress had no hesitation to tie up with the JD(U) to keep the BJP out of power, after the BJP failed to get a majority on its own in the State Assembly elections. It readily accepted Kumarswamy as Chief Minister. Though the coalition did not last and BJP came back to power after suborning the loyalty of some MLAs, the fact remained that it had failed to get a majority on its own.
In Maharashtra also, the Congress readily accepted Sharad Pawar’s proposal to form a coalition with Shiv Sena along with the NCP. The Congress accepted Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister. This was unthinkable before but the Congress realized the political compulsion of keeping the BJP out of power. The Shiv Sena broke with the BJP on the issue of chief ministership and the relationship between the two former allies is getting worse by the day. Recently, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna, in an editorial, has accused the BJP of trying to instigate Hindu-Muslim riots all over the country on the issue of CAA and NRC.
In Jharkhand also, the story was no different. The Congress allied with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha as a junior partner to fight the State Assembly elections. It announced before the elections that JMM chief Hemant Soren is the chief ministerial face of the coalition. The BJP was roundly defeated. In a House of 81, the saffron party won just 25, even less than the JMM’s 30. Amit Shah had predicted his party would get sixty-plus seats. The BJP could not even claim the status of the main Opposition party in the Assembly.
Mamata is undoubtedly the most popular leader in West Bengal. The crowds that she is pulling during her State-wide padayatras against the CAA and the NRC are proof of that. She need not be overly concerned with the State units of the Congress and the CPI-M. By their irrational opposition to Mamata and TMC and by trying to paint her as really an ally of the BJP, they are only marginalizing themselves in State politics.
Mamata will have to keep the national perspective in her mind. She has to realize that the Congress alone can be the pivot around which the unity of like-minded parties can gel and emerge as a force capable of ensuring the victory of the democratic forces and defeating the forces of authoritarianism. (IPA Service)