By Nitya Chakraborty
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s letter to 14 opposition leaders to unite against the BJP’s attacks against the Constitutional norms and the powers of the non-BJP state governments- just three days before her historic battle in Nandigram assembly constituency against her former protege BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari, has big relevance for the shaping of the national politics in the coming period leading to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Mamata has been in touch with the opposition leaders in the last few months and seeking their support in fighting the onslaught of the BJP-RSS headed by the Prime Minister Narndra Modi and the Home Minister Amit Shah.BJP is projecting the battle in Bengal as a show down between Prime Minister and the Chief Minister and for all practical purposes, Bengal has emerged as the final battleground whether the BJP juggernaut will move towards building a Hindu Rashtra after capturing power .BJP is hoping to repeat Tripura of 2018 in Bengal in 2021.
Mamata’s letter of March 28 has been sent to six chief ministers and eight other opposition leaders including the Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya. The Congress is a partner of the Congress-Left-ISF alliance in Bengal elections, but Mamata has taken it as local compulsions and thought of the national perspective of fighting BJP unitedly. The letter starts with the latest NCT Amendment Act passed in the recent session of Parliament which makes the elected government of Delhi led by AAP Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, a slave of the centre nominated Lt. Governor. It makes elections irrelevant as policy powers are with the LG and the CM will act just like Chief Secretary.
The Centre’s action is a warning to all other non-BJP chief ministers including Jagan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrasekhar Rao of Telangana and Naveen Patnaik of Odisha who are keeping safe distance from the anti-BJP opposition but afraid of growing assault of BJP in their domain. The other important issue is the use of official agencies by the centre in harassing the opposition leaders including the chief ministers in narrow political interests. The latest is the use of ED against the Kerala Government just on the eve of assembly elections.
In fact, earlier also in 1983, the first concrete move was made by the West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu by convening a meeting of the non Congress Chief Ministers to discuss centre-state relations. The document was prepared by the then state finance minister Dr. Ashok Mitra who was the first one that time to put this issue from both economic and political perspective. The non-Congress chief ministers attended including N T Rama Rao of Andhra Pradesh who was then a hero to the non-Congress parties for defeating the entrenched Congress in his state. This battle over centre-state finances was also ably followed up by Dr. Amit Mitra, finance minister of Mamata government and Dr. Isaac, finance minister of the LDF government of Kerala.
What Mamata has mentioned in the letter has its echo in all the CMs of the non-BJP governments and has the potential of a conference of the chief ministers and non-BJP opposition leaders after the assembly elections but the strength of that opposition conclave will be determined to a great extent by the outcome of the assembly elections which will be known ion May 2.The results of elections in Bengal have special importance because if by any chance, BJP wins or comes near the winning figure, that will undermine Mamata’s stature to emerge as the unifier of the non BJP opposition.
Already, many opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar, Tejaswi Yadav, M K Stalin and Akhilesh Yadav have extended their support to Mamata. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren also is with Mamata, despite all these leaders being with the Congress in their coalition state governments. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is with Mamata from the beginning. They sincerely believe that Mamata is fighting in Bengal against the BJP and the Modi-Shah duo on behalf of all the non-BJP opposition and her victory will only strengthen the fight against the authoritarianism of the centre and its attacks against the federal principles.
All of them are wishing Mamata’s victory though they are mostly with the Congress in fighting BJP nationally. These non Congress opposition leaders are also looking at the May 2 outcome from another angle- Rahul Gandhi’s future. Rahul has campaigned continuously in Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, he has been the main Congress campaigner and if by any chance, he can steer the Congress led UDF to victory, that will give a big boost to his stature. Similarly, there is a possibility of the Congress alliance winning in Assam If that happens including Kerala victory, Rahul will emerge as the undisputed leader in the Congress party and his leadership of the non-BJP opposition will be welcomed. Rahul is an uncompromising leader against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS. M K Stalin and many others including the Left will like him to emerge as a leader rather than Mamata.
In fact, the opposition should work for two stage unity after assembly elections. First the unity of non Congress opposition parties who are hard core anti-BJP led by the Congress. Then the unity of the chief ministers who will fight for the state powers and resist attacks against federalism. This CM group may include the chief ministers of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. Telangana CM is already feeling the heat of communal polarisation in his state from BJP. He might be tempted to join politically against BJP before 2024 Lok Sabha poll. All these CMs including Naveen are fighting both the Congress and the BJP in their respective states and they will be interested in coming closer to anti-BJP opposition if the alternative is strengthened following the assembly elections. No such fence sitting CM will like to take any risk unless the non-BJP alternative is really strong and has potential to unseat BJP in the next Lok Sabha polls.
That is why, the outcome of May 2 assembly elections, is of supreme importance. It will shape the nature of opposition unity, BJP’s future as also future role of both Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee in leading opposition against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.