UPA president Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi will most likely skip the 19 January rally (to show off unity among the Opposition parties) called by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Congress will take part in the rally, only to be represented by the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge. Is that some sort of political messaging? Let's see.
Rahul and Sonia snub Mamata - you could soon see such headlines. But not today.
Let us first ask a more important question: Why would Congress want to be part of a rally designed by a political leader who is known for her mounting prime ministerial ambitions and has been quite vocal about her political stance on a non-BJP and a non-Congress government at the Centre? Clearly because when you (Congress) call it a 'united' Opposition, you can't be the one breaking that unity. So, the Congress' attendance is important, and media might make a big deal out of the "biggies" missing from the Mamata rally but missing Sonia and Rahul will not matter much to the Trinamool Congress chief.
"We had extended invites to all leaders and we have been told that Kharge will be attending," Mamata said. According to reports, sources in the Trinamool Congress said that personal invite was extended to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi was called in the capacity of the Congress president.
Quoting a Congress source, The Hindu reported, "It is too close to the general elections. Unless we know the shape of the pre-poll alliance for the 2019 elections, we do not want to send any conflicting message. Our state unit is also not too keen that Rahul be seen standing with the TMC."
Mamata told reporters that leaders of non-BJP parties from "Kashmir to Kanyakumari" would be present at the rally, which political observers are describing as an effort on the her part to emerge as the face of the opposition ahead of the coming Lok Sabha polls.
"On 19 January, you will see a huge representation from all regions of the country. Heavy-weight national leaders, including a former prime minister and several ex-chief ministers, will attend the rally," Mamata said.
"Political leaders from Kashmir to Kanyakumari — former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy (both of Janata Dal-Secular), Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal (Aam Admi Party), former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party chief), Sharad Pawar (Nationalist Congress Party chief and also former Maharashtra chief minister), Farooq Abdullah (National Conference chief and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister) would be among the many leaders present at the rally," Mamata added.
Mamata's disdain for national political parties has been made well-known by the leader herself through her many public speeches against the ruling NDA government at the Centre. However, the attacks have concentrated mainly against the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah. If not equally critical, Mamata has not hidden her annoyance when reports quoted DMK leader MK Stalin endorsed Rahul for the prime minister in 2019.
"Projecting Rahul Gandhi for prime minister is the right thing to unite secular forces," Stalin said. While Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said that it is not necessary that everyone from the alliance should have the same opinion, Mamata said, "I am not alone (in the proposed alliance). We are working together. So whatever all the political parties who have come together decide, we will accept that. Now is not the right time. Let us hope for the day when there will be a good change."
Mamata has had a rocky relationship with the NDA, but her collaboration with the UPA has not been the most peaceful either.
Mamata's foray into national politics began in 1999 when the Trinamool supremo joined the NDA government and was the railway minister from 1999 to 2001. In 2000, Mamata Banerjee and Ajit Panja quit the government protesting against hike in petrol prices but later withdrew their resignations. In March 2001, they quit the Vajpayee government for good in the wake of the Tehelka sting. In early 2004, Trinamool returned to NDA fold and Mamata became the coal minister till NDA was voted out. In 2009, Trinamool joined UPA and Mamata became Chief Minister of West Bengal on 20 May, 2011. Trinamool walked out of the UPA in September 2012, reducing it to a minority.
This brief resumé of the Bengal chief minister speaks volumes about her relation with both national alliances and which makes this proverbial mahagathbandhan situation tricky. Saying that the 'united' Opposition lacks unity, would be repeating what has been said quite often and the reasons are obvious — different parties, several agendas, shrewd and complicated politicking , personal ambitions, etc.
First of all, there are two sets of thinking emerging from this United Opposition — one is behind the Congress. The likes of DMK and Chandrababu Naidu's TDP who want the Congress to lead. The second (so-called faction) believe that it's high time that a non-BJP and a non-Congress party form government at the Centre, which includes parties like TMC and KCR's Telangana Rashtra Samiti. Mamata made her stance clear when she said, "Everyone would be the face of the 'mahagathbandhan'."
The senior Congress leadership's very public lack of interest for the Mamata cause does make a pertinent point — Opposition is still not united. Mamata, along with NCP chief Pawar, BSP supremo Mayawati, Akhilesh, was quite critical of the meeting between Naidu and Rahul in November last year. "The issue is that if all Opposition leaders aren't present at the meeting, then it doesn't show a united front and doesn't show solidarity," Mamata had said.
Akhilesh had accused the Congress of attempting to scuttle his party's chances in Chhattisgarh, while Mayawati described both the BJP and Congress as "snakes", adding that she would rather remain in opposition than ally with either. Around the same time, Pawar met with Mamata and reports quoted party sources, who said, "Pawar and Mamata spoke on Saturday and concerns were raised about the role that the Congress was playing ahead of the meeting. It appeared that the Congress was trying to hijack the situation and take control of the entire matter." There is also a question mark over KCR's absence from the rally, as sources said, he had decided to skip it because he did not want to share a stage with Rahul.
However, the regional parties need to also remember that stitching an alliance with different regional parties with diverse political views isn't easy.
The Congress is still on weaker ground. While a lot has been written about BJP losing allies, we should also take a look at how many will follow Congress leadership if it gets the chance to form a government at the Centre. So, for a group of seasoned politicians, who are tired of falling the footsteps of the two largest national parties, Congress leaders skipping a massive Unity rally would not be the worst thing. It will be their chance to get to the forefront of national politics.
Updated Date: Jan 16, 2019 23:54:35 IST