Mamata Banerjee's rally in Kolkata did little more than to feed into BJP narrative, boost Narendra Modi's chances

Saturday's mega rally in Kolkata, organised by Mamata Banerjee — yet another prime ministerial hopeful — to showcase her strength as also that of Opposition unity may inadvertently have helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the object of their collective ire.

Anti-Modi rhetoric by 25 leaders of over 20 parties and the inner contradictions of those gathered on the podium a the Parade Ground rally in the West Bengal capital has given the BJP that much-awaited opportunity to swing the electoral narrative for upcoming parliamentary election — clarity versus confusion, development versus corruption, Janata versus Mahagathbandhan, public welfare versus family welfare, Modi versus chaos and Modi versus the rest. Amit Shah had earlier pitched it as a battle of majboot sarkar versus majboor sarkar.

Modi was quick to pick up the issue and build a counter-narrative. Around the time leaders from the Opposition ranks were taking their turns to harp on the singular theme of 'Modi hatao, desh bachao', the prime minister addressed a rally in Silvassa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli. His half-an-hour speech at that public rally was divided in two parts; the first in which he talked about the developmental initiates for the larger public good he had put in place and the second in which he punched holes in the supposed Mahagathbandhan and the sort of gathering that had turned out against him in Kolkata.

Mamata Banerjees rally in Kolkata did little more than to feed into BJP narrative, boost Narendra Modis chances

File image of the crowd at Mamata Banerjee's rally in Kolkata. PTI

He projected himself as an anti-corruption crusader and a development-oriented leader who tirelessly worked day and night with the singular motive of people's welfare. He said that Opposition's problem is that Modi is relentlessly fighting against corruption and taking tough action. Middlemen have been thrown out from corridors of power. Middlemen and touts have been removed at the lower level and the money is directly credited to poor people's accounts. It is because of this anger, he opined, that they are trying to form a Mahagahbandhan. Their world begins with hatred towards Modi, he continued, and ends with abuse to Modi. In contrast, his world begins with working for the welfare of 125 crore Indians and ends with contemplation on what he did through the day to achieve that purpose, the prime minister claimed.

The other punch was aimed at Mamata as Modi wondered why she was so afraid of a one-MLA party (BJP) in West Bengal. So much so that leaders from all over the country had gathered in Kolkata and were shouting "Bachao, Bachao, Bachao". Incidentally, another mega rally planned to showcase Opposition strength against Modi has been planned in Amravati, Andhra Pradesh with Chandrababu Naidu playing host. Incidentally, as in West Bengal, the BJP too does not have much of a presence in Andhra.

Modi was playing a hero, but the victim card was also subtly played — 25 people ganging up against one Modi. Back in 1971, it helped Indira Gandhi, who proclaimed, "Woh kehte hain Indira hatao, main kahtin hoon garibi hatao (they say remove Indira, I say remove poverty)". It helped Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 after his government was defeated by one vote in the Lok Sabha. "Kya kasoor tha iss aadmi ka? (what was this man's fault?)," he queried.

It's not that all in the Opposition ranks are oblivious to the implications of 25 leaders — most of whom were enemies till recently — gathering on one dais with a singular motive.

Note what Omar Abdullah said at the Idea Exchange Programme organised by The Indian Express two months ago: "Sometimes, I have disagreements in terms of strategies. When we make it look like we are all ganging up against Modi, we are actually playing to his advantage. It allows him to be the victim. It's the biggest favour that we can do him. I don’t think it helps our case when 14 to 16 of us sit together on a stage and then blast him. It would be much better strategically if we did this state-wise — have an understanding in Uttar Pradesh, in West Bengal, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana — instead of lining up on a stage. If we are a part of this wider fight against the BJP, what does it matter if Naidu addresses a rally in Srinagar? But it will allow the prime minister to claim that these guys are ganging up against me because I have stopped their corruption."

There Omar had also made a distinction between Modi's credibility and the BJP's popularity. He was right. Even in the recently-concluded round of Assembly elections, particularly those held in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, a large number of people who voted against the BJP in Assembly elections vouched for Modi in the Lok Sabha polls.

Finance Minister Aun Jaitley picked up from where Modi had left by writing a blog titled Agenda for 2019Modi vs Chaos. In the epilogue, he spoke of the 1971 Grand Opposition Coalition formed to oust Indira, but when the results came, Indira won decisively and the Opposition lost. "The India of 2019 has moved way ahead of India of 1971. Aspirational society never commits collective suicide. They do not suffer from a Lemming Syndrome," he wrote.

He is right when he says in his blog that the Kolkata rally on the surface "was an anti-Modi rally", but it was "also a non-Rahul Gandhi rally". "The Opposition politics has thrown up four desirous prime ministers wishing to challenge Modi. Besides Mamata, the other three — Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and KCR — were significantly absent in Kolkata. Two-thirds of those on stage were those who in the past have worked with the BJP," he wrote.

Two of 25 leaders gathered in Kolkata endorsed Rahul Gandhi's prime ministerial candidature, but with riders. Tejashwi Yadav, who apart from MK Stalin, backed Rahul for the post, for instance has hinted that the Congress should be realistic and not demand seats beyond its strength (negligible) in Bihar. Congress ally in Karnataka HD Kumaraswamy thinks that Mamata in the Opposition ranks would make for a better prime minister than Rahul. Kumarasway was earlier rooting for Mayawati to be prime minister.

All of this is fodder for Modi and BJP in the run up to this years Lok Sabha election.

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Updated Date: Jan 21, 2019 16:54:29 IST

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