What Didi wants

Joint Opposition front will depend on May 2 outcome. And on ability of parties to make common cause beyond anti-BJPism

In the midst of what looks to be a nasty election campaign, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has written to over a dozen Opposition leaders on the need for a united front to defeat the BJP. This outreach in the heat of battle is unusual. It could be read as an admission of weakness, or a description of the emerging format of political competition, in which an aggressive and ascendant BJP is forcing a redrawing of the battlelines. It is possible that Banerjee is preparing a blueprint for post-poll manoeuvring. Whatever her calculations, the letter presents a candid picture of the seeming inability of Opposition parties, for now, across regions, to take on the BJP might, singly.

In her letter, Banerjee has claimed that the “BJP wants to make it impossible for non-BJP parties to exercise their constitutional rights and freedoms” and that it seeks to “establish a one-party authoritarian rule in India”. She has appealed to like-minded parties, including the Congress while excluding the Communists, to come together and present “a credible alternative to the people of India”. An action plan, she has suggested, could be worked out after the elections. Banerjee seems to have drawn the conclusion from the BJP’s thrust in West Bengal that she will need wider support, within the state and outside it too, post May 2. A clear win in the state could pitchfork the TMC chief to the centre of Opposition politics and a leadership role in a national alliance of non-BJP parties ahead of the 2024 general election. In the event of losing the election, on the other hand, Banerjee would need all the help to hold her party together and face new challenges in the state.

Banerjee’s push for a joint Opposition front, however, hinges on the parties she has appealed to being willing to keep aside local interests and egos, in order to negotiate common political ground and a positive agenda that amounts to more than anti-BJPism. One issue she has flagged, federalism, citing the new law pushed by the Centre that undermines the elected government in Delhi while giving more powers to the L-G, will find resonance among parties such as the DMK and Shiromani Akali Dal. But be it secularism, or federalism, these are abstract ideas that need a political vocabulary that connects with the people. Earlier attempts at stitching a joint opposition front failed because they were initiated as responses to electoral defeats and remained coalitions of convenience. A new united front would also require a new story to win over voters.

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