NEW DELHI: Elections are happening in Karnataka, but political formulas are floating in New Delhi —aimed at 2019. Mamata Banerjee was here in town for three days with one such formula in hand. Her next stop is Chennai, April 10.
Didi’s formula is 1:1. Translated in simple electoral terms, it would mean one winnable candidate versus another, in all parliamentary constituencies, across the country. Whether it’s a national front or a federal front, against each candidate of the BJP, the front would put up one common candidate which the rest would support.
In the Indian system of electoral competition, a crowded bazaar where the candidate roster looks like a laundry list, that could be a tall ask. But the TMC has it covered. “A single candidate in all seats against the BJP, to ensure that the opposition votes do not get fractured,” is how Mamata has put it.
It may need a bit of sacrifice from everyone, but that’s the need of the hour for the opposition to counter the Modi juggernaut. Mamata cited how Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav adjusted their rival vote-banks to defeat the BJP in Phulpur and Gorakhpur.
Well, the list of people Mamata met in Delhi, too read like a full shadow cabinet, no less: NCP, SP, BSP, NC, DMK, RJD, BJD, Shiv Sena, TSR, TDP, JD-S, AAP, BJP rebels and finally a trip to 10 Janpath.
Of these, NCP chief Sharad Pawar made it clear to her that he’s “game for the formula”, but can’t openly antagonise the Congress by helping an anti-BJP but virulently anti-Congress front.
TMC insiders present in the meeting confirmed that Pawar cited his alliance with the Congress in Maharashtra, in the coming bypolls and later. Naveenbabu, being his own man, asked his BJD person to remain non-committal.
“That’s not a problem; in each state the regional parties will be in a position to counter BJP and stop its progress. He has no issues with the 1 versus 1 formula, Mamata told an aide, during the talks.
It, however, took her a trip to Sonia Gandhi’s residence to accept that there are many states—Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Himachal (together accounting for 118 seats), large parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Assam (128 seats among them) and the North-East (11)—where the straight fight is between the Congress and the BJP. And, there are states, like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra, Telangana (166 seats) where BJP has a scanty presence. In Odisha and Bengal it’s attempting to make big inroads, perhaps in vain.
It was after a former Congress chief’s trusted aide explained to her how things stand, state-wise, that Mamata said in an interview to a state media said that she has no problem working with the Congress and her relation with Rahul Gandhi is “good”.
The Congress is a marginal player in UP (from where ironically the party leadership gets elected) and in Bihar. “This is where the regional parties, the Mamata formula of 1 versus 1, is supposed to kick in a big way,’’ a Mamata aide explains.
For Bihar, the federal front is banking heavily on the RJD on the assumption that Nitish Kumar and his JD-U remains discredited for camp switching. “The longer they keep Lalu in jail, the better for RJD. Tejaswi Yadav has played his cards very well till now—even the upper caste BJP voters are dismayed with them.” This is the essence of the story Mamata has been told by Bihar watchers.
But why Mamata, when the original idea of the front had come from KCR? And the biggest bet is riding on Akhilesh and Mayawati not just sticking to their provincial deal but also pulling it off on a large-scale?
A backroom strategist, instrumental in the emergence of coalition governments since 1989, explained that Mamata has “traction’’ and good relations with many regional leaders, just the way Jyoti Basu and Harkishen Singh Surjeet of the CPI-M had in the past. “She can be a catalyst to the extent that she can open channels with the Congress, TDP, Sena, even the Akalis,’’ the strategist noted, citing how KCR would have been a non-starter as far as the Congress is concerned. “She has even invited the Left to join the front,’’ he pointed out.
On record, Mamata denies she has any prime ministerial ambition. So what prompts her to come out of her lair in search of a greater alliance outside? Obviously, her “national role’’ will help her maximize her strike rate back in WB. But that would mean, displacing the Congress from its strongold—four seats that it has never lost. Not to mention the Left. Closer to 2019, the success of her 1:1 formula would be tested on the home ground first, just as how she’ll accommodate both KCR and Chandrababu, while keeping the Congress in the loop.
Her assessment is that Naidu, like Naveenbabu, will remain his own man and fight it alone. The final shape of the front, therefore, would emerge post-poll, depending on how each of the regional parties fare in the states and the Congress overall.