Saturday's mega Opposition rally in Kolkata was, on the one hand, a strong statement of intent on the part of the Opposition parties — while at the same time, it also exposed the inherent faultlines in their ranks in the run-up to the 2019 elections. The absence of Rahul Gandhi and BSP supremo Mayawati from the rally served to underline the contradictions that still exist within their ranks.
Brigade Rally: Who was there, and who wasn't, was noteworthy. (Photo: Twitter/AITC official)
At the heart of the issue is the question of who would lead the coalition of opposition parties if the numbers add up in their favour. While it is crystal clear that no one party is in a position to either defeat the BJP on its own or form the next government all by itself, what is still not clear is who will head this combine. Though the opposition maintains that the leadership question will be decided after the polls, a point that was reiterated at Saturday’s rally by the TMC chief herself, it's no secret that there are already three obvious contenders.
Ideally, the Congress party would want Rahul Gandhi to become the Prime Minister in 2019. The second is BSP chief Mayawati and third but not the last is Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. While neither of them has openly staked their claim, the positions they have begun to adopt, whether on the question of conceding seat adjustments, alliances or sharing a platform, all of it is being done with a view on the post-poll scenario.
Three contenders for the one big post. (Photo: Reuters)
Last week; Mayawati put her foot down on the idea of including the Congress as a part of the alliance in UP. Earlier, the Congress failed to concede seats to the SP and the BSP in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh. In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee refuses to concede an inch to the Congress when it comes to the question of seat sharing, all with a view to limiting the Congress party’s tally of seats.
Her decision to host and bring together opposition leaders was aimed as much to subtly promote her own position as a potential leader of a post-poll alliance of political parties that are now part of the opposition.
The Gandhis chose to stay away, though they sent Mallikarjun Kharge and Abhishek Singhvi and a letter of support, largely because in Bengal, they have an alliance with the Left parties, and also because Mamata has shown no inclination of accommodating the Congress party. She sent a personal invite to the Congress leadership but chose deliberately to ignore the state leadership of the Congress party. In her own mind, Mayawati too sees herself as a Prime Ministerial candidate and went out of her way to ensure that the Congress party was kept out of the alliance in UP. By not attending the rally herself, Mayawati sought to send out a message that she was unwilling to subsume her own ambitions.
The post-poll scenario has, to a large extent, dictated the choice of allies of all three parties. Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati are both banking on the fact that the regional parties put together will have more seats than the Congress and its allies — thereby forcing the grand old party to support a leader from amongst the regional parties to head their coalition. The Bengal CM has a door open to the likes of Telangana CM K Chandrashekhar Rao, Andhra leader Jagan Reddy and even Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik — all of whom are opposed to the Congress.
Three key regional players: Do they also hold a national key? (Photo: India Today)
Mayawati is banking on the alliance winning a big chunk of seats in UP and thereby emerging as a front runner to become the first Dalit PM of the country.
The Congress party has long fancied itself the natural party of governance and hopes to emerge as the single largest party from at least amongst the non-BJP parties, so that it can have a shot at leading the next government. It is also banking on its allies, the JD(S), DMK, NCP, TDP, National Conference, IUML, and Badruddin Ajmal, to swing the leadership its way.
For now, these leaders will have to rein in their personal ambitions for the larger cause. The Opposition's priority is to defeat the BJP, and for that to happen, they will need to ensure that they put up one common candidate against the BJP in the largest number of seats. A failure to do so will prove it very costly. Narendra Modi and the BJP will not fold up and retreat into the sunset — and their defeat is by no means certain.
His critics should not underestimate his battle plans. (Photo: Twitter)
One false step by the Opposition could spell doom for the Mahagathbandhan.