If there was even an iota of doubt about Mamata Banerjee positioning herself as the prime ministerial candidate of an Opposition coalition, it got dissipated after she engineered her election as the Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party’s head. Didi didn’t need to hold that position ever since she became chief minister of West Bengal in 2011, as her writ runs in the regional party she founded. Now that she has given herself a parliamentary position without being a member of Parliament, Mamata has made her intentions clear.
At 66, age is on her side. Her recent call for Opposition unity in her address from Kolkata—telecast simultaneously at multiple regional capitals for the first time—had the right nuance. Though the next general elections are more than two-and-a-half years away, putting off the cobbling together of an Opposition alliance to a much later date could be counterproductive, she warned. But one half of her choice of leaders to take the coalition initiative forward was curious—Sharad Pawar of the NCP and P Chidambaram of the Congress. For, no one, including himself, knows where Chidambaram stands in his party’s matrix. While Mamata is believed to have lined up a meeting with Sonia Gandhi during her visit to Delhi, snubbing the Gandhis by not mentioning them in her video address sent out a loaded political message.
Though Mamata may be ready to lead the Opposition, the moot point is whether other regional parties would agree to rally around her. For, she is seen as at least as autocratic as the dispensation she seeks to replace. She has worked in coalitions before, but her ability to run a grouping of disparate national and regional parties, which involves flexibility, political trade-offs and listening more than speaking, is yet to be tested. And her record at development is at best patchy.
A fractured Opposition is what the BJP would be counting on as five states, including the all important Uttar Pradesh, go to polls in about eight months. Just the other day, BSP leader Mayawati appeared to shake off sloth and spoke about the need for a united Opposition. If Mamata can somehow catalyse coalition building in UP, it would be a giant step towards realising her national ambitions.