Mamata and Opposition unity: Why Congress is important to her game plan

Key to Mamata Banerjee's plans of bringing the Opposition together will be the Congress. A source close to Mamata said: "It would be politically foolish to alienate them. A good Congress performance will serve the opposition's best interest.”

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | New Delhi | Updated: August 11, 2017 3:03 pm
mamata banerjee, opposition unity, sonia gandhi, congress, nitish kumar, jdu, politics, indian express news West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Congress president Sonia Gandhi at 10, Janpath in New Delhi. File/Express Photo by Renuka Puri

That Mamata Banerjee is looking to stitch together the Opposition ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is no longer a secret. Key to this, those close to her maintain, is the fact that she continues to be on “good terms with everyone” in the Opposition and even “some in the BJP”.

Before Nitish Kumar joined the BJP, the Opposition had been planning a massive farmers’ rally in New Delhi. A rally, sources maintained, had been Kumar’s idea to begin with. Now with the Bihar CM’s re-alignment with the BJP, Banerjee believes she is the only leader in the patchwork quilt of the fledgling Opposition alliance with “appeal with the masses” and a relatively uncontested home turf.

The numbers back the Trinamool Congress. After the BJP and the Congress, the Trinamool Congress has the second highest number of seats in Parliament – 34 in Lok Sabha and five in Rajya Sabha. Moreover, the party has 211 seats in the Bengal Assembly, followed by the Congress with 43.

The AIADMK is only slightly ahead (37 seats in Lok Sabha and 13 in Rajya Sabha), but their alliance with the BJP is growing more likely. So, Banerjee’s position in the Opposition space is growing stronger.

A senior Lok Sabha TMC MP said, “The idea isn’t about one party attempting to control the Opposition space. But the political space in the country is such that the Opposition parties need to unite. Some have already realised it, others are flocking to the BJP as a result.”

This, in fact, has been Banerjee’s clarion call from the very beginning – that Opposition parties need to come together, in order to “avoid the Centre’s bogey of investigating agencies and false allegations”.

Key to Mamata Banerjee’s plans of bringing the Opposition together will be the Congress. A source close to her explained, “There are parties which have their own respective spaces. But most of the states, which are poll bound before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, are ones where there is a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress. It would be politically foolish to alienate them. A good Congress performance will serve the opposition’s best interest.”

The BJP, meanwhile, believes that Banerjee’s decision to flock to the Congress and oppose the Centre has to do with not just her national ambitions, but also her growing unease with a resurgent BJP in Bengal.

“The state has seen a political shift. BJP’s space has increased and its visible on the ground. By hoping to ally with the Congress, she is hoping to strengthen her space in the state,” said one Bengal state committee BJP leader.

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