Opposition Unity-a Mirage!

The Trinamool Congress (TMC), which humbled the Modi-Shah duo in the Bengal elections and energised the Opposition narrative for a while, has suddenly brought smiles back to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) camp. The party’s ambivalence about chalking out a common agenda in the Winter Session of Parliament has become a cause of concern to other Opposition parties, particularly the Congress.

For one thing, not often in the last seven-and-a-half years has the ruling dispensation been in such a defensive position as now. So much so, it was forced to repeal the three “black farm laws” when it confronted a mass movement. The movement is still on, and if the entire Opposition could have spoken in unison—as it did during the last Monsoon Session—the ruling dispensation would have an even more challenging time.

Two visits to the national capital by Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of Bengal, within merely four months, demonstrated vividly what the winds might blow in. The highlight of her latest visit was Banerjee meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi—supposedly to discuss demands related to West Bengal and extend an invitation to him for the Global Business Summit next year in Kolkata. A supposed meeting with Congress leader Sonia Gandhi did not take place even though a section of the media and her party leaders had hinted it would.

Banerjee’s last visit to Delhi was in July 2021, merely two months after her party’s historic win in the West Bengal elections. Yet, that visit and the latest are a study in contrasts. She met several Opposition, leaders including Sonia Gandhi at her residence and Rahul Gandhi also attended. Talk about ‘strengthening opposition unity’ splashed across the media for a while. She met Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and then said, “There is no UPA [United Progressive Alliance] now,” a dig at the alliance of ruling parties led by the Congress party that was in power for two terms from 2004 to 2014.

The idea of strengthening opposition unity is nowhere to be seen in the TMC’s plans, as one saw in its foray into other states and her focus on the north-eastern states. Of course, the Congress has become a soft target for the TMC now, a trend that began with Tripura and later found place in Goa as well.

Nobody can challenge a political party’s right to expand in a democracy, but how it is unfolding, in this case, is jarring. Sushmita Dev, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament, once a close confidante of Rahul Gandhi, and Mahila Congress leader, was the first high-level defection from the Congress. It was followed by a veteran Congress leader from Goa Luizinho Faleiro, who was chief minister in 1998-99 and had been with the Congress for four decades. Then Ashok Tanwar from Haryana, Kirti Azad from Bihar, and others left the party. The latest jolt to Congress is from Meghalaya, where thirteen of eighteen MLAs led by Mukul Sangma, a two-time chief minister, joined the TMC.

No doubt, for the BJP, all these developments within the opposition spectrum are definitely a moment of cheer as of now.

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Vol 54, No. 25, Dec 19 - 25, 2021