West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, in her first visit to the National Capital since assuming office for a third term, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence on Tuesday.
Banerjee, on a five-day visit to Delhi, earlier met Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma. All this in the backdrop of #AbkiBaarDidiSarkar trending on Twitter, thus further fuelling rumours about a United Front.
Speaking to reporters after the meet, Mamata said it was a courtesy call after the poll victory and that they did not discuss the bypolls. She added that she has asked for more COVID-19 vaccines ahead of the third wave as well as an all-party meet on the Pegasus snooping row. Mamata further said she will meet Congress leader Sonia Gandhi over tea at 4.30 pm tomorrow. The West Bengal chief minister is also expected to meet Sanjay Raut and Sharad Pawar.
This was Banerjee's first official meet with the prime minister since her party trounced the BJP in the state Assembly elections held between March and April, the row over Alapan Bandyopadhyay, the then chief secretary of the state, post-poll violence and Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.
A slew of issue including supply of COVID-19 vaccines, clearance of GST dues owed to the state and Pegasus snooping scandal, were slated to be discussed at the meet.
But it is not just her meet with the prime minister that is stirring interest. Banerjee is expected to meet Abhishek Manu Singhvi. Besides, she is also likely to meet Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Aam Aadmi Party head Arvind Kejriwal, leaders from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Rashtriya Janata Dal, according to sources.
Her visit gains significance in the wake of her hour-long virtual address on the TMC's martyrs' day celebration on 21 July where she openly appealed to leaders of Opposition parties to come together in an effort to dislodge the BJP.
The address, which was broadcast at Delhi's Constitution Club, was attended by NCP's Sharad Pawar, Congress' P Chidambaram and Digvijay Singh, Samajwadi party's Jaya Bachchan among other opposition leaders. She said, "The way Bengal fought against the BJP, I urge all Opposition leaders and other states to convince their parties to work together to build a front."
She further added, "I do not know what will happen in 2024. But we have to start our planning and work from now. We need to speak up and stand united now. We have to forget our self-interest. Our sole interest should be to save the country and its people, states and federal structure."
It must be understood that any coalition that aspires to defeat the BJP must have a strong national party at the centre of the alliance. Even earlier, when the idea surfaced before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections it failed to bear fruit because many of the regional parties failed to come to an understanding with the Congress.
Now with the fast-disappearing footprint of the Congress coupled with BJP's defeat in West Bengal Assembly elections, it seems Banerjee hopes that her party would take that central position " the nucleus around which all parties will band before they declare 'khela hobe' again. It is in keeping with this that her poll strategist Prashant Kishor was seen hobnobbing with both the NCP and the Congress last month.
While it is still uncertain what the outcome of her visit will be, a few questions need to be asked. Why would all non-BJP parties accept TMC as the nucleus of the alliance when Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have achieved the same feat? That is, driven out BJP from their states.
Moreover, what has changed in the last two years? How exactly will party differences be resolved, such as Bahujan Samajwadi Party's Mayawati has refused to contest any elections in alliance with the Samajwadi Party. How will it navigate the complex but critical issues of portfolio distribution, posts, and individual prominence before a United Front is born ahead of the 2024 elections?