Is Congress-Mukt Bharat a possibility now?
Ever since the Trinamool Congress trounced the BJP in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is considering herself to be an alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Defeating Modi in the West Bengal Assembly elections was not an easy task, especially when all the money-power and the muscle-power was with the ruling party at the Centre. Against all odds, Mamata proved all the political analysts and the psephologists wrong, who were predicting a nail-biting finish in the State Assembly polls. In fact, even leaders like Amit Shah and his colleagues, who were confident of toppling Mamata Government, were taken aback with the results of the West Bengal Assembly elections.
The party, which was predicting that it would win more than 200 seats, secured only 76, while Trinamool Congress won 214 seats in the 294-member West Bengal Assembly. Mamata Banerjee, therefore, has every reason to be on Cloud Nine, after the debacle of the BJP. However, to imagine that she can replicate the same performance on the national stage will be far-fetched. But, gradually, she is moving towards the same goal. If not in 2024, then in the next five years, she is keen to emerge as the main Challenger to the BJP. To accomplish her goal, she knows that she will have to wipe out the Congress and replace it with her own party.
The recent move in Meghalaya, where 12 of the 17 MLAs ditched the Congress to switch sides to the Trinamool, depicts the hurry in which Mamata is to wipe out the Congress, which is preventing her from donning the mantle of the main Opposition party. Besides Meghalaya, she succeeded in winning over former State Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro in Goa, former Mahila Congress President Sushmita Deb in Tripura and umpteen number of leaders in West Bengal. Though her mission has been successful in the North-East, owing to the proximity which the region shares with West Bengal, it would not be easy for her to manage in other larger States in the North.
Mamata Banerjee’s 3-day visit to Maharashtra was aimed at gauging the strength of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi Government and the relations which the Shiv Sena and NCP share with the Congress. Interestingly, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray didn’t meet Mamata, owing to his being unwell. However, she met NCP leader Sharad Pawar to explore the option of forming an alternative to the UPA front, led by the Congress, with its Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in command. NCP leader Sharad Pawar, who, too, is hoping to lead the country someday, has not quit politics so far, though he declined to contest in the last elections.
With umpteen number of aspirants for the Prime Ministerial chair, it would not be cakewalk for Mamata Banerjee. In every State, in fact, regional satraps are hoping to lead the secular front, whether it is Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, or BSP leader Mayawati from Uttar Pradesh, or Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao. TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu was also an aspirant in the past, but due to his party’s rout in the polls, he has fallen behind in the race.
Interestingly, Modi’s popularity graph is still not showing signs of decline, though it has also not risen in the recent past due to various reasons like economic slowdown, price-rise, Covid mismanagement, mishandling of farmers agitation and unemployment issue. There is nothing for the BJP to flaunt about, though they still have enough reasons to feel optimistic, given the state of affairs in the Congress party. With the Congress on the decline and the Opposition in disarray, the BJP has no worries.
In Uttar Pradesh, due to the fragmented Opposition, it is advantage BJP in the upcoming State Assembly polls. Similar is the case in all the election-going States of Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. In Punjab, where it was earlier, the fight between two parties — Akali Dal (SAD) and Congress — now, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also entered the electoral fray and is a strong contender. In Uttarakhand, again, the BJP has an edge over the Congress, while in Goa, Mamata is desperately trying to replace the Congress. In Manipur, the BJP is predicted to win 25 to 30 seats in the 60-member Assembly. With the Congress unable to set its own house in order in most of the States, it will not be far when Modi’s dream of Congress-Mukt Bharat will come true.
The Congress will have to mend its ways, if it wants to continue its hold in the political field. It is no longer the question of ideology, as even the parties like Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party, Nationalist Congress Party and the Left, are all Secular. Instead of merely trumpeting its Secular credentials, the Congress leadership will have to use novel strategies to keep their own flock together and rein in the dissidents in the party.
The State, where the Congress leadership should own up full responsibility for committing a blunder, is Punjab. By shaming its own winning Chief Minister Amrinder Singh, by kicking him out unceremoniously, the Congress has become a laughing stock. It is the only State, where the PCC Chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi are fighting openly between themselves. By giving undue importance to Sidhu, the Congress siblings, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, have committed political hara-kiri, thus giving advantage to Aam Aadmi Party in the ensuing polls. If they can’t wrest power from the BJP, at least they should try to retain power in their own States. They are left in power only in a handful of States, like Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Punjab. In Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, they are in no better position, with rebels making things difficult for the Chief Minister.
More than being active on Twitter, the Congress leadership should spend time in strategizing politically. If Mamata Banerjee can tour different States and meet Chief Ministers, why cannot the Congress leadership do the same? Mamata is active in holding parleys with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena leaders like Aditya Thackeray and Sanjay Raut, in her effort to form a new front that can replace UPA. If all these leaders switch-over to Mamata Banerjee in stitching a new alliance with her, the UPA will in fact become history in the near future.
Knowing fully well that Congress President Sonia Gandhi will not allow anyone to take over the leadership of the party, it is high time that Rahul Gandhi finally decides to don the mantle of Congress President. Running the party as a de-facto President has its adverse implications. No one takes you seriously and by the time you are prepared to call the shots, there may be no one to receive your orders, as your flock may have ditched you to join another secular outfit. More than the BJP, the Congress should be wary of the Trinamool Congress, which is playing a spoilsport at present, by running its own parallel activities, as an Opposition party.
Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, should realise that in her efforts to overtake Congress, she may miss the opportunity of a larger goal of becoming the Prime Minister. If only all the Secular parties unite there is a remote chance of defeating the BJP.
(The writer is Delhi-based Senior Journalist and Political Commentator)