Narendra Modi versus 'the rest': 'Mercurial' Mamata Banerjee key to uniting disparate Opposition against BJP

If the body language of India's top political leaders at the swearing-in ceremony of HD Kumaraswamy as Karnataka chief minister on Wednesday is any indicator to go by, then Mamata Banerjee may well end up doing more disservice to the fledgeling Opposition unity than helping its cause, against the BJP in the 2019 General elections.

The West Bengal chief minister appeared indignant as she walked some 300 metres to the podium at the venue of the oath-taking ceremony. Compared to the open display of camaraderie among other leaders, it stood out like a sore thumb.

A video that went viral showed Mamata, who's known for her mercurial temperament, openly expressing her apparent displeasure towards Karnataka police chief Neelmani Raju after entering the venue. She also seemingly expressed her discontent to Kumaraswamy and his father, former prime minister HD Deve Gowda. Even when ousted JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav greeted Mamata, she appeared stiff.

A Trinamool Congress source said that the chief minister was 'angry due to the mismanagement of VVIP vehicles inside Vidhan Soudha complex'.

In contrast, the natural bonhomie displayed by an otherwise nonchalant UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, towards BSP chief Mayawati was especially surprising. The body language displayed by the two top leaders was definitely a signal about the possibility of a 'federal front'.

The oath-taking ceremony was billed as the platform needed by a disparate Opposition to come together and forge a possible front against the BJP, with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Given the strong presence of Mamata's Trinamool Congress in the Lok Sabha — a total of 34 members, making it the fourth largest party after the BJP (274), Congress (48), AIADMK (37) — the West Bengal chief minister will be called upon to play a seminal role in stringing together all Opposition parties under one umbrella.

Mamata has already made it very clear that she is averse to giving the leadership role of this chimeric Opposition unity to the Congress. She has even been quoted as labelling the Congress a 'regional party', given its diminished status in national politics.

File image of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

File image of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

She used the oath-taking ceremony on Wednesday as a platform to integrate the regional parties as a strong force to take the Narendra Modi government head-on. Before reaching Vidhan Soudha, Mamata had cautioned at the airport that "regional parties can't be taken lightly… we'll stay in touch with all regional parties so that we can work for the development of the nation, the people and for a federal setup".

In a bid to build a 'federal set up' by integrating regional parties, Mamata had a long discussion with TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu on Wednesday afternoon.

Though Gowda had mentioned Congress as a formidable force after the Karnataka results, Mamata, barring an exchange of greetings with Congress president Rahul Gandhi, had no discussions with him. However, she did have a small chat with Sonia.

While the numbers in the 16th Lok Sabha do point towards the nadir that the Grand Old Party of India finds itself in, it cannot yet be dismissed as a 'regional party.' Besides the BJP, it is the only other party with a national presence, albeit it is suffering from a terrible turn in its fortunes.

With Mamata in no mood to lend the leadership role of the Opposition to the Congress, it remains to be seen what eventually will become of the 'united' Opposition.

It seems unlikely that the Congress will settle to play second fiddle to a party that counts its founder-president Mamata as the only Opposition leader with a national recall, and who herself was a member of the Congress before she decided to part ways and set up her own outfit.


Updated Date: May 24, 2018 18:59 PM

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