Mamata Banerjee has taken India’s political world by storm following her latest comments about the grand old party.
While politicians across party lines had something to say, is a Congress-mukt alliance of opposition parties practically possible?
Regional Parties Unite?
After her meeting with Nationalist Conference Party chief Sharad Pawar on the evening of December 1 in Mumbai, All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee held a press conference stating the need for an alternative to the serving Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. When asked whether Pawar would be made the leader of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), indirectly questioning the Congress’ abilities, she said, “Which UPA are you talking about? There is no UPA.” Banerjee asserted, “We believe that a strong alternative should be raised. We must fight. What can we do if someone is not fighting? We want to fight.”
Dragging Congress MP and Gandhi family heir Rahul Gandhi into her comments implicitly, the TMC supremo further stated, “If you stay in foreign countries half the time, when will you do politics in India? You should be continuously attached with political activities.” NCP leader Pawar appeared more cautious and emphasised that all those against the BJP should unite. He said, “There is no question of omitting anyone. We are talking about taking everyone along. Whoever is ready to work hard and ready to join hands with others will be taken along.” When questioned about who should lead the anti-BJP front, Pawar said that “it is not an issue, and more importance should be given to setting up a strong front”.
Mamata Banerjee also met with Shiv Sena leaders Sanjay Raut and Aaditya Thackeray on November 30, in the absence of party chief Uddhav Thackeray owing to his spinal surgery. After the meeting, Aaditya Thackeray said, “Uddhavji and Mamata didi share a good bond. Both the leaders have been in touch and have had coordination, whether it in case of Covid-19 or otherwise.” Banerjee coined the slogan ‘Jai Maratha, Jai Bangla’ after her visit to the Siddhivinayak Temple. Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant meanwhile said, “The Opposition does not need a face to be united, ideas are needed. First, ideology should match, then anyone can be the Opposition.” The TMC supremo has also extended help to Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav for the Uttar Pradesh state assembly election. With rumours of the SP allying with the Aam Aadmi Party and the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, Yadav has stated that he will be considering a coalition with regional powers.
In what is being seen as a rescue effort, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal “extended an olive branch” to regional parties on behalf of his party. He tweeted, “Without the Congress, UPA will be a body without a soul.”
Most analysts believe that the TMC has too much ground to cover and that Mamata Banerjee’s comments while fresh, cannot be backed by either data or India’s current political scenario. Moreover, an opposition without the Congress is unimaginable. However, some also suppose that the grand old party is dying a slow death.
“There have been so many opportunities lost by the Congress in terms of issues that can create lasting impact and really hurt the BJP,” says a leading political strategist, on condition of anonymity. She said, “The Congress has been so focused on grand scale issues such as the Rafale and farm laws that issues like increased fuel and vegetable prices that affect the common man have been pushed aside.” The political strategist further added, “Even with the farm laws, there seems to be no game plan to drive the narrative now that the Centre has decided to repeal the three laws.” Both Houses of Parliament have seen continued protests despite the revocation of the three controversial farm laws and the Centre’s decision to include five leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha. While members of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) have been demanding that the Centre procure paddy from their state and have ensured disruption of the Houses, the main demand of the Congress is to lift the suspension of their Rajya Sabha MPs. While the TMC has also demanded the same, the two suspended MPs of the party have been demonstrating separately.
Speaking about the possibility of the TMC’s rise, the political strategist said, “The comments and meetings seem to be more about snatching headlines than anything substantial. What happened to the BJP in Bengal will probably also happen to the TMC in Goa.” Explaining the recent happenings further, she deduced, “However, to be a national party, you need to be contesting elections in different states, like what AAP has been doing. If the parties unite, they might be able to do some real damage in some states, especially given that the Congress has considerable presence only in three states.” The Shiv Sena and AAP have decided to contest on all 403 seats in UP, while the AIMIM will be contesting on 100 seats. With the SP being the only credible threat to the incumbent Yogi government, a coalition of the various regional parties in the fray and an unpredictable Akhilesh Yadav need to be watched out for.
Although in terms of the general election, the Congress-led UPA’s chances look abysmal. “As the oldest party, the Congress has enjoyed the largest voter base for a long time. However, the problem is that the vote share has remained the same despite the increasing population,” explains the strategist. She further infers, “The BJP is in election mode 24x7x365; however, the Congress seems to spring into action only about three months prior.” When asked if the regional parties could take advantage of this sans the Congress, she said, “They do enjoy good ground support but so does the BJP because of the RSS’ strongly rooted system and karyakartas. The parties may not be able to make a dent in the BJP’s prowess in 2024 and will most likely be aiming for 2029.”
The national general secretary of the TMC, Abhishek Banerjee had said in June 2021 that the party will be setting up working units in 15 states within the next one year. The TMC has been making intense efforts to make inroads into various states, and at some places, it has been at the direct expense of the Congress. In what was termed a state-wide coup against the Congress 12 out of 17 of their MLAs in Meghalaya joined the TMC. This was in line with the defections of Luizinho Faleiro in Goa, Sushmita Dev and Abhijit Mukherjee in West Bengal, Kirti Azad in Bihar and Ashok Tanwar in Haryana. “Unfortunately, it has become easy to buy the loyalty of MPs,” says the strategist, adding, “but even so, most of the people who have defected are younger leaders with ambition and potential who realised that there is not much scope for public or personal gain while being associated with the Congress… Sachin Pilot is hanging on by a thread… Leaders like Mahua Moitra and Jyotiraditya Scindia (currently a cabinet minister in the BJP government) have defected and made some real damage that could have easily been avoided.”
While the next general election is still a while down the road, the upcoming state assembly elections in several states will chart the way forward for the country. Being the oldest and most experienced party on the battlefield, and being the main opposition force currently, the Congress is responsible for ensuring the development of the country and hold its counterparts accountable. But how will it do so without getting its own house in order? Is continuing with the failing leadership of the Gandhis more significant than the survival of the party, or will its tall leaders finally be able to take a stand for the sake of people and country?
The Horus Eye is a weekly column written by Divya Bhan analysing current affairs and policies. This column does not intend or aim to promote any ideology and does not reflect the official position of The Sparrow.