West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s impressive show of both people and opposition leaders at Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on 19 January is a serious challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s led BJP that is leaving nothing to chance to retain power in the coming general elections.
Over 10 lakh strong rally, addressed by over 20 opposition leaders of over 15 important parties outside BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) barring the BSP, TRS, AIAMDK, BJD, INLD, Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, was a clear demonstration of the unity that declared to fight Modi government for an united hate-free India.
Massive show saw the participation of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha Malikarjun Kharge, Karnatka and Andhra and Delhi chief ministers H D Kumaraswamy, Chandrababu Naidu and Arvind Kejriwal, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav,NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, National Conference leader and former J&K chief minister Farooq Abdullah. DMK chief M K Stalin, RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav, RLF leader Jayant Choudhary, former Union Ministers Yaswant Sinha, Arun shourie and Sharad Yadav, cine star turned politician Shatrughan Sinha apart from others. Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani also addressed the mammoth rally.
The Prime Minister, even before the Kolkata show was over, chose to attack the unity effort saying “my actions against corruption has infuriated some people who have formed an alliance called Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance).They might form tie-ups to save their family, their empire, but they can’t run away from their misdeeds,” he said.
Chandrababu Naidu called Modi a “publicity PM” while the country needs a “performing PM”, Kumaraswamy accused the BJP-led NDA government of ignoring “farmers”. Leader after leader attacked the Modi government on a wide range of issues. Sum and substance of the content of the speeches was that the Modi government has destroyed social peace and communal harmony and has divided the nation on religious lines. It has miserably failed to deliver on its promises and has ruined the economy and business.
In fact, speeches of individual leaders at such rallies are not so important but the show of unity is far more crucial because people go with perception rather with facts. Building of anti-Modi or anti-BJP atmosphere is the essential pre-requisite of an electoral battle and Mamata has succeeded to a great length by giving up a clarion call for the ouster of the anti-people government whose “expiry date is over”.
By bringing secular parties and their leaders on a platform, Trinamool Congress leaders has achieved tow objectives. She has staked claim to the prime ministerial position in case of a defeat of the Modi government by the people through the ballot, Ms Banerjee has conveyed. Secondly, the rally has enthused the TMC cadre and people at the prospect of a Bengali being the next prime minister of the country.
It is true that there are many claimant of the prime ministerial chair among the opposition leaders but then the number of seats that each party gets in the Lok Sabha is going to determine the outcome.
Modi and his ministerial along with party colleagues may demonstrate their confidence by dismissing Kolkata rally and other efforts by different parties in their respective areas of strength and influence as not of much consequence. Harsh reality is that the BJP that won huge majority in 2014 general elections is going to face tough electoral battles in every state and union territory of the Indian union.
Electoral strategists and planners of the BJP must be regretting that the coming general election unfortunately is not to going to be contested on national issues and the absence of a national narrative puts them at a serious handicap. Issues and opponents are going to change from state to state.
BJP chief Amit Shah, who is famous as a grand electoral strategist and is credited for making the saffron party win in the 2014 polls and thereafter in almost 20 states, would now have to have different game plan for different territories where party’s main icon Modi would face new opponents.
It would have been far easier for Modi-Shah duo to mobilise public opinion by attacking the Congress and its chief
Rahul Gandhi but now the Prime Minister would have to train guns on over a dozen political leaders and political parties that are going to change from state to state.
Absence of BSP chief Mayawati or her representatives at the rally may give a handle to the BJP leaders to attack Banerjee’s show but presence of her alliance partner Akhilesh Yadav was enough to counter the charge.
While Mayawati avoided the United India rally for maintaining a separate profile in people’s consciousness, what combines the two is their common goal to oust the Modi government. The BJP and the RSS would try to convert the coming electoral battle into a presidential contest but absence of a single leader on the other side would frustrate them.
The Congress, by sending Kharge and Manu Abhishek Singhvi, has played its card very intelligently because it is going to fight in West Bengal not in alliance with the TMC. The Congress has demonstrated the common interest of defeating the common enemy remains while it is for the people to elect their desired representatives. The Congress is playing more a role of facilitator opposition unity rather than becoming an eyesore by remaining on the front.
The opposition strategy is to pin down Modi on multifarious issues and on multiple fronts making him run from one to the other. Ground is being laid for a challenging and equal electoral battle in which neither side has an upper hand.
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.