Different messages were sent out to two distinct audiences from the 'sea of humanity' at Mamata Banerjee's 'United India Rally'. The first message was for the people of West Bengal. It was unambiguously broadcast that with the Kashmir to Kanyakumari assemblage of leaders, India was prepared to accept the state chief minister for a bigger role. Even if this was the for just the rally at the present, this could just be the beginning.
The dream of the All India Trinamool Congress supporters and large sections of the state's people is to see their leader as India's next prime minister. Chances of this hope being realised shall increase with every step the party takes towards an unprecedented hundred percent performance or winning all the 42 two seats from the state.
The message from Brigade Ground is that Opposition representative from other parts of the country have endorsed Banerjee's leadership. This includes almost every state, even symbolically from Arunachal Pradesh whose Gegong Apang, in 1998, became the first non-Hindi heartland party leader to align with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP. Now, it is the turn of the people of the state to maximise the chances of Mamata Banerjee at the Centre.
The second message which has gone out this Sunday from Kolkata is to the rest of India. This states that disparate leaders from different regions and diverse social following can come together despite a formal declaration of a nation-wide alliance. And, all with one agenda — to vote out the present government because its policies have been ruining the lives of the people and it has destroyed the inclusive fabric of the nation. The last words at the rally said it all: "badal do — badal do, Dilli mein sarkar badal do (change it — change it, change the government in Delhi)."
It is only the absence of the Left parties which prevented the rally from being labelled as one which encompassed the entire anti-BJP Opposition. But this is understandable, given the peculiar political balance and equation in West Bengal where there is yet no need for an all-out combination against the BJP. The AITC and the Left remain sworn enemies despite the surge in political violence in the state between the former and the BJP. The situation is similar to what it is in Kerala where despite the surge of the BJP, the principal adversaries remain the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the CPM-led Left Democratic Front.
Significantly, Mamata Banerjee set aside the debate of leadership and the BJP's effort to reduce the impending election from being an issues-centric poll to a presidential style contest between Modi and an indentified face. She unambiguously stated that the BJP needn't raise the bogey of leadership as "we are all leaders." On the most significant question that the BJP has begun playing, who will be the replacement, the chief minister reiterated what has already been stated previously: "Post-elections, we will decide who is to become prime minister."
Certainly, BJP leaders' efforts to deride the rally and the coming together of parties who shall even lock horns in a limited manner in a few weeks from now is an attempt to shore up the cadre's enthusiasm and ensure they do not get disheartened at the emerging Opposition unity for programmatic success.
The just-vanquished Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, still trying to find his feet in his new job, invoked the imagery of Mungeri Lal's haseen sapne (daydreams), arguing that 22 parties with four MPs were dreaming of becoming prime minister. But this statement, and that of other leaders and spokespersons, manifest the impending worry for the BJP.
Building the scenario of the BJP being up against a grand alliance or mahagathbandhan, the Narendra Modi-led electoral machine is now increasingly facing the prospect of being forced to grapple with multiple alliances across different states. Because the character of these alliances would be different, even including parties that are opposed to each other in a different region or state, the nature of the contest will vary from one part of the country to another and the BJP will be unable to run a unitary campaign.
It is certain now that the contest will be between the BJP's machine-managed centralised narrative and a disaggregated campaign that would be run differently by a motley lot in multiple styles. The more the heads that the BJP has to counter and disparage, the greater the chances of its campaign becoming diffused.
True, there are contradictions within the Opposition ranks, the biggest question mark being on whether the Congress would be part of the BSP-SP led front in Uttar Pradesh or not. On this would depend a lot of issues, including if the Congress will be willing to take a back seat and support a third alternative. Furthermore, the 'half-participation' of the Congress at Mamata Banerjee's show of strength underscores the dilemma that is plaguing the party.
It was token presence because the big guns — both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi stayed away. Yet they deputed senior enough leaders to mark presence on their behalf and also sent personal messages ensuring the door remains open for a few seats to be left to them in West Bengal.
The Congress of 2019 is nowhere near the party of 2004 which under Sonia Gandhi discreetly put together such a formidable alliance that it pulled the rug from beneath Atal Bihari Vajpayee's feet. The Congress has failed in seizing the initiative to forge alliances and this is being done by state allies or other Opposition parties.
Between 2004 and 2014, not only has the BJP emerged as a more credible fulcrum of Indian politics and a more potent force, but the Opposition to it has also fragmented further. This will make the contest of 2019 much keener than anyone expected. It must be kept in mind that eventually, the results of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were more because the BJP lost the state and not because the Congress won these.
It would be passé to say that "certainty of 2019" which was harped by one and all, most embarrassingly by Omar Abdullah, after the BJP's sweep of Uttar Pradesh, was a false reading of political reality. But there is no denying that the United India Rally has made the challenge for the BJP and Modi one notch graver.
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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2019 19:30:41 IST