Mamata’s method: Scuttle Rahul, open door to Delhi

Mamata’s method: Scuttle Rahul, open door to Delhi

It appears regional leaders are not prepared to surrender in perpetuity the PM's seat to the Congress

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Credit: PTI File Photo

Just after her West Bengal election victory, Mamata Banerjee vowed to be the prime mover of the united Opposition in the country and met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in Delhi. It galvanised the entire anti-BJP populace. 

But then, something inexplicable happened, and the Trinamool Congress started preying on leaders of the parties from the Opposition itself. Though the Congress became Mamata’s prime target, her party did not spare other opposition parties.

The poaching started with Sushmita Dev of Assam/Tripura. Luizinho Faleiro of Goa was added, and most recently Mukul Sangma of Meghalaya defected to TMC along with 11 fellow legislators, replacing the Congress with the TMC as the main opposition party in the state. Next, former JD(U) leader Pawan Verma walked into the TMC. The waiting list to enter TMC, it can be safely assumed, has more exciting names. 

Meanwhile, in Tripura, the CPI(M) has suffered in the recent municipal polls that saw the TMC finishing third, snapping at its heels. 

The political paradigm has shifted. Earlier, the TMC used to target discontented former, or lapsed, BJP leaders for poaching, and the best example of this was Yashwant Sinha of Jharkhand. Now, except in Bengal, the Congress and CPI(M) have alleged that the TMC is doing it at the behest of the BJP to save Abhishek Banerjee from the CBI's clutches. 

It is not rocket science to understand that an anti-BJP front cannot shape up as a meaningful entity without the Congress. In several states such as Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat, the Congress is the sole force against the BJP. In several other states such as Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Assam and Goa, it is the leading force against the BJP. In states like Jharkhand, it is a significant junior partner in the anti-BJP camp. 

The Congress is a significant player in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana as an opposition party against regional forces, including the CPI(M). So, altogether, it still has a strong presence in about 200 of 543 seats of the Lok Sabha and has about 20% vote share, which is far above that of any other opposition party. That makes the Congress a natural leader of the opposition forces. 

Trinamool's agenda 

So, what is it that the TMC is trying to achieve? Why are some people entertaining such a tricky effort? On Tuesday, Mamata Banerjee landed in Mumbai and met with Shiv Sena's Aditya Thackeray (since his father, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, was indisposed). She met Sharad Pawar on Wednesday. Some others like Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal and Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav have a good equation with Bengal's Didi. 

The only plausible explanation of the TMC's recent activities is its attempt to forge a regional front that will combine all the anti-BJP regional parties. Indeed, such a front cannot displace the BJP from New Delhi if it does not have the support of the Congress. But the obverse is true as well. 

It appears that the TMC, and many other regional leaders, are not prepared to surrender the prime minister's seat to the Congress in perpetuity. The main driving force here is, of course, personal ambition, but it is not all. Most of these leaders are not keen to elevate Rahul Gandhi to the topmost seat. 

As both points merge perfectly with the mindset of quite a few ambitious leaders of the regional parties, Didi's game is gaining ground. All these leaders feel that Rahul Gandhi is arrogant, uncompromising and incompetent. And, at 51, he is young, politically speaking. So, the fear is that once he establishes his right over Delhi's seat, it could stay with him for several years. 

So, the TMC's game plan is to establish the regional front's (Mamata once proposed "Federal Front" as its name) equal right over the seat of the Union government. At present, she has stature and age (she is 66). If Rahul Gandhi gives in, Mamata will be the natural choice to be the challenger to Narendra Modi in 2024, as other stalwarts like Sharad Pawar do not have age on their side. 

The second most ambitious leader in the Opposition fold is Arvind Kejriwal, who is 53, and in the near future, the AAP could emerge a much more significant force than it is now. And he will be on board with Didi, for if a strong ‘Federal Front’ emerges, probably he will be its natural leader in the next decade. The same is true for a lot of sons and daughters of various regional family-based parties. It makes Mamata Banerjee's game plan alluring. But it is risky, too, as it may portray the Opposition as an unstable house and work in favour of the BJP. 

(The writer is a journalist and author based in Kolkata)