Uniting the Opposition: Why has Mamata gone silent?

Uniting the Opposition: Why has Mamata gone silent?

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI file photo

While the belief that a united Opposition can beat the BJP in 2019 is growing, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, an early unifier briefly spoken of as a potential prime minister, has receded into the shadows.

About three months back it was the feisty Mamata who took it upon herself to rally the Opposition parties to put together a pan-India anti-BJP alliance. But things have changed in the last couple of months and the baton has moved into the hands of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

Naidu has met several major Opposition leaders including DMK president M K Stalin, JD(S) supremo H D Deve Gowda, his son Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

Mamata’s last major meeting with Opposition leaders took place in August in Delhi. After that, apart from extending an invitation to Opposition leaders for her mega rally in January in Kolkata the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief has gone quiet.

So what is the reason behind Mamata taking a back seat? First, the TMC chief’s immediate concern is the steady rise of BJP in West Bengal. This becomes evident as the focus of her attack has shifted from her traditional rival CPI(M) to BJP.

From the National Register of Citizens controversy to the BJP’s alleged attempts to create religious polarisation in Bengal, Mamata rarely misses an opportunity to target the saffron party. It seems that Mamata's current priority is to curb BJP's growth in Bengal rather than at the national level.

Mamata also has reservations against being regarded as 'the face’ of the proposed anti-BJP alliance and has repeatedly avoided questions regarding the prime ministerial candidate of the alliance. 

“She (Mamata) does not want to be seen as the only leader trying to unite Opposition parties against BJP. So her drive to meet other Opposition party leaders has slowed down a bit,” a senior TMC leader close to Mamata told DH.

Political analyst and faculty member of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata Maidul Islam is of the opinion that Mamata has consciously taken a back seat in terms of unifying Opposition parties.

“I think she has adopted wait-and-watch tactics as she wants to see the outcome of the upcoming Assembly elections and how BJP performs there. She has probably understood that her acceptability is yet to reach the national level and hence is currently focusing on West Bengal,” Islam said.

Mamata’s effort to unify the Opposition against the BJP is likely to face several hurdles in her own state. While it is very unlikely that her traditional rival CPI (M) will join forces with TMC to counter BJP, the state Congress is also not keen on working with TMC in West Bengal.

Even as the CPI(M) is struggling to iron out differences within the Left Front regarding the proposed Left-Congress alliance in the state, its state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra has publicly asked party workers to vote for Congress where the Left Front does not have candidates, in order to keep the BJP at bay. The state Congress leadership also is keen on joining forces with the Left Front rather than the TMC in West Bengal.

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