Mamata Banerjee’s sights are not on the next month’s Presidential election. She is focusing on another election that will take place in 2024.
The 2004 Lok Sabha election saw the Congress winning more seats than expected, but not enough to form a government on its own.
It needed allies and, in order to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party out, the Left offered its support, based on commitment to a common minimum programme.
As the Samajwadi Party was an ally of the Left in UP, the SP rode piggyback, believing it too was going to be part of the government.
It thought wrong.
While the Communist Party of India-Marxist’s Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the man who helped build several secular alliances, was invited to the first strategy meeting at Sonia Gandhi’s residence, the SP was rather pointedly kept out.
Conscious that the alliance would not take off if the SP was not included, Surjeet asked SP stalwart Amar Singh to accompany him uninvited to the meeting.
When Singh reached there, he found a stony silence greeting his presence. He felt clearly unwelcome and excluded.
Later, the SP, the Congress, the Left parties, and others were to create the United Progressive Alliance, which went on to rule India for two terms.
Is Mamata Banerjee the Harkishan Singh Surjeet of 2022 (and, eventually, 2024)?
The moves she has made to bring the Opposition together on the issue of a common candidate for the election of the President of India suggest that the outreach to find a new President is outweighed by the need to create acceptability for an Opposition candidate for the position of prime minister of India, 2024.
There is hardly any doubt that internal fractures in the Opposition preclude a common strategy on the part of the parties opposed to the BJP and also opposed to the Congress.
This is why the Biju Janata Dal, the YSR Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party, and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi stayed away from the Banerjee-sponsored meeting for a consensus on the common presidential candidate.
Take the example of the recent Brajrajnagar assembly by-election, which the BJD won by a massive margin of 65,000 votes.
But look at the party that came second — not the BJP, which ended up third, but the Congress.
It is then clear that it is not the BJP that is the BJD’s primary threat in Odisha, but the Congress.
‘We may carry the formal tag of being the main Opposition party in the state, but people are yet to accept us in that role. In popular perception, our role as the main Opposition has been diluted because the ruling BJD is often seen as supporting us on various issues. That creates suspicion in the minds of people,’ BJP leader Satyabrata Panda told local newspapers.
Similar is the case with the TRS.
In the Telangana assembly elections in 2014, the Congress won 21 seats out of the 119 seats it contested, with a vote share of 25.02 per cent.
But in the 2018 assembly election, the Congress contested only 100 seats, including friendly contests in four, as it had forged an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party, the Communist Party of India, and the Telangana Jana Samithi to form the Maha Kootami or the People’s Front.
Yet, it won 19 seats and its vote share went up to 28.4 per cent.
For the Aam Aadmi Party, with an election looming in Delhi and with the Congress the primary Opposition in Punjab, joining hands with Mamata Banerjee and a forum at which the Congress is a presence makes no sense.
On the other hand, none of these regional parties threatens the Trinamool Congress.
It is more than a coincidence that May 2022 saw the birth of a new organisation not directly associated with the TMC.
The Web site says ‘India Wants Mamata Di is a community, believing in the ideology of Hon’ble CM of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee and All India Trinamool Congress, the party that she leads’.
It is steered by professionals and was launched by TMC MP Derek O’Brien on May 14.
The India Wants Mamata Di’S Twitter and Facebook accounts have crossed 10,000 followers and have been active with posts that praise the West Bengal government and Banerjee.
There is hardly any doubt that with the support of the BJD and other ‘non-aligned’ parties, the BJP will have no difficulty in getting its candidate to win the Presidential election.
Banerjee is not unaware of this. But her sights are not on the July election: They are on another election that will take place in 2024.
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