West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is on a five-day trip to Delhi to meet national-level Opposition leaders and prepare the pitch for a grand anti-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in the 2024 general elections. She met Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul yesterday in this regard.
After the meeting, addressing the press, Mamata said that they discussed the unity of the Opposition and to defeat the BJP, everybody needs to come together.
Similar attempts have failed in the past
The joint Opposition candidate in 2017 Presidential elections Meira Kumar had also faced a humiliating defeat bagging just 35% vote share. Even 6 MLAs of Trinamool Congress (TMC) from Tripura had backed the BJP and National Demoractic Alliance candidate.
Actually calling Meira a joint Opposition candidate is a misnomer as three main regional parties which are in power in Andhra, Telangana and Odisha, accounting for 12% of Lok Sabha strength, did not support the Opposition bid.
Similar attempts before the 2019 general elections failed. To defeat Modi, Rahul had agreed to give up on being the Opposition’s prime ministerial candidate and let regional leaders Sharad Pawar and Chandrababu Naidu take the lead in stitching the alliance.
However, things didn’t materialise. The BJP came back with a bigger majority.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s attempts to form a Federal Front also didn’t take off. He had met many regional satraps, including Mamata and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
In 2018, TMC was leading similar efforts to unite all Opposition parties. A massive rally was held in Kolkata attended by all major Opposition leaders, except Rahul Gandhi. The slogan given was ‘2019 BJP Finish’. BJP scored 303, crossing the majority mark alone, a feat accomplished by any party last in 1984, in the backdrop of elections held after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Lok Sabha elections are far off
The Lok Sabha election is more than 2.5 years away. That’s a lot of time in electoral politics. Didi, buoyed by her stupendous victory in the West Bengal elections, perhaps feels she and her party have the momentum and it's time for her to take the national stage.
After being labelled a giant killer she might leave state politics for nephew Abhishek Banerjee to take care of. She is well within her rights to think so. However, it's going to be easier said than done.
The momentum can turn negative and could be lost by March next year if a significant population is vaccinated and BJP manages to win the Uttar Pradesh elections.
Amit Malviya, the BJP’s social media head, cheekily quipped in a debate on India Today that Mamata should first think of becoming an MLA rather than toppling Modi. Although her party won handsomely in state elections earlier this year, Mamata lost in a prestigious battle in Nandigram to former aide Suvendu Adhikari. She has to win a by-poll and enter the Assembly before the end of October.
Too many leaders in Opposition camp
There are too many leaders in the Opposition camp with big egos. These regional satraps like Pawar, Mayawati, Akhilesh, Uddhav, do not consider themselves smaller in stature to any other leader, including Mamata.
Further, in some states, there are two regional parties like YSRCP and TDP in Andhra, SP-BSP in Uttar Pradesh, how come both of them would come onboard.
Lack of appeal beyond Bengal a weakness
Mamata, undoubtedly, is a charismatic, hard-working and mass leader, but her appeal is limited to Bengal. Not many people would prefer her as prime ministerial candidate outside of her home state.
In 2019, the TMC received the third highest votes after the BJP and the Congress. It garnered 2.49 crore votes. It contested on 63 seats, 42 in West Bengal and 21 in other states (mainly North East). Almost 99.3% of the votes it received came from Bengal. So, the party lacks appeal beyond Bengal, though technically it is a national party, as per the Election Commission.
To sum up, attempts by Mamata to canvass support for her name being announced as PM candidate in 2024, are fraught with many challenges.