On Tuesday, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was in Lucknow to campaign against the Narendra Modi government’s policy of demonetisation. From there, she heads to Patna, where the ruling Mahagathbandhan allies seem divided over the prime minister’s initiative against black money. Banerjee was the first politician to take opposition to demonetisation to the streets, terming it an assault on workers and traders. Her march to Rashtrapati Bhawan and sharing of the political stage in Delhi with AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal were attempts to emerge as the face of the anti-NDA protests. By all accounts, with the Congress reduced to 44 MPs in Lok Sabha and looking far from a revival, Banerjee, who has 34 MPs and consecutive assembly poll wins in West Bengal, senses a vacancy in the Opposition nationally — and an opportunity.
Banerjee’s move, seen alongside the decision of Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik — like her, chief ministers leading non-BJP governments in states — to support the Centre’s demonetisation policy, speaks of the ongoing ferment in the space of the national opposition. At the same time, it also mirrors a longer, larger trend of the federalisation of national politics. In making her move towards the Centre to take on the Modi government in this moment, Banerjee may even be said to be taking a cue from Modi’s own spectacular trajectory — from chief ministership of the state to prime ministership of the country. And then, ever since the collapse of Congress dominance at the Centre in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and the inauguration of an era of coalition governments in which regional parties and leaders played a key role, the distance between national and regional politics has seemed considerably shortened.
Of course, the present conjuncture is different — the ruling party, the BJP, is armed with a decisive mandate, the first in nearly three decades, and it is the Opposition space that seems splintered and fragmented, with no party emerging as its main pole. In fact, demonetisation appears to have further divided the Opposition, with parties breaking ranks and strategising independently. The competition is on, and the curiosity in days to come will not just be about the consequences and outcome of the government’s daring move against black money. It will also be about who makes the more persuasive and more successful bid for leadership of the Opposition space.