IN a telling recent statement, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has called Congress “the BJP’s TRP” as, according to her, the party only wastes its time while the BJP is strengthening by the day. When asked about the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, Banerjee snapped “what is UPA, there is no UPA now.” This was the starkest signal yet that Banerjee is not ready to be a part of the UPA which, as of now, exists in theory only.
Banerjee’s disillusionment with Congress is understandable. Soon after winning a landslide victory in West Bengal she had tried to forge an understanding with the Congress but the latter’s passive politics has since turned her off. Now she is banking on a coalition of regional parties to take on the BJP. Banerjee said that the opposition’s choice of the Prime Minister would be decided by the evolving “situation and the states”, explaining that the important “issue now… was to wipe the BJP out of the country politically and save democracy.” She called for drafting a comprehensive strategy to take on the BJP. “We need united opposition. We need a firm alternative against the BJP,” Banerjee said.
But as things stand, it looks highly uncertain that the opposition could come together. BJP under prime minister Narendra Modi is all over the place. Despite being in power for over seven years at the centre and earlier for three successive terms in Gujarat , the PM has incarnated an overarching pan-India leader. He has transcended the party system and turned the elections into a presidential contest. And he can only be credibly taken on by a leader who commands charisma, stature, great oratorical skills and who can peddle and defend an ideology that is deployed as a regenerative alternative to Hindutva at a pan-India level. There is no such leader in India today.
True, Banerjee has the potential to grow into one. But her political sphere of influence remains strictly limited to her state. Her party has little presence in other states. But she can only assume a national persona if projected as a leader of a combine of the regional parties, something whose chances look slim under the circumstances. Nor is Congress as the sole opposition party with a national footprint in a position to forge a credible coalition against the BJP. The party is currently in tatters. The deep disaffection is brewing in its ranks and in states like Punjab and J&K, it is falling apart. On the contrary, the BJP under PM Modi is reigning supreme. As of now, it looks unlikely any opposition party, a combination of them, or any major leader is in a position to dislodge the party.
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