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Didi to Modi: 'Khela Hobe'

By PAYAL SINGH MOHANKA
July 28, 2021 10:16 IST
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Didi embarks on her new mission: To unite the Opposition to take on Modi in the Lok Sabha elections of 2024, observes Payal Singh Mohanka.

All illustrations: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

The Khela Hobe slogan that reverberated through Mamata Banerjee's election campaign this year and helped to catapult her in the seat for her third term as West Bengal's chief minister is being invoked once again.

The 'Game On' catchphrase is part of Didi's clarion call to the Opposition as she embarks on her new mission: To unite the Opposition to take on Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi in the Lok Sabha elections of 2024.

Last week, the Trinamool Congress supremo's Martyrs' Day address sent out a strong message. This annual event is held to commemorate the death of 13 Youth Congress workers in police firing in 1993 when Banerjee was a member of the Congress party and the Left Front ruled the state.

Her speech was not only beamed live across several thousand venues in Bengal but also heard by a host of senior Opposition leaders including the Congress's Digvijay Singh and P Chidambaram, Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar and his daughter Supriya Sule, Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan as well as representatives from the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Shiv Sena, Aam Aadmi Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal who gathered at the Constitution Club in New Delhi to participate in the virtual event.

Banerjee beseeched the Opposition to put aside self-interest and join forces to oust the Modi regime.

Didi's efforts to mobilise the Opposition had started in the run-up to the Bengal elections. Her campaign saw huge support from leaders of the NCP, RJD, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Samajwadi Party.

While the general elections are three years away, Banerjee has fired the first salvo by calling all Opposition parties to jointly fight the BJP. A charged Didi with an ambition to replicate her party's success is now projecting herself as the only leader who can take on Modi.

The loss of her own seat in Nandigram notwithstanding, her party, the Trinamool Congress's resounding success in the polls has added more muscle to Didi's Mission 2024. While she waits for the Election Commission to announce the bypolls in Bengal so she can win her assembly seat in the next three months, she is already preparing for the next big fight.

Several concerns, however, are being raised: First, who would lead such a coalition? Banerjee has declared that she is not a prime ministerial aspirant.

She is presenting herself more as a rallying point. Her critics dismiss this totally. And insist it is her personal national ambition that is making her march ahead.

Why would the other Opposition parties cede that space to TMC which in the best case scenario cannot cross 40 seats in a House of 543?

More importantly, if Banerjee is truly not an aspirant, then who is most likely to be the face of this coalition?

The Bharatiya Janata Party may have paid a price for not having a face in the Bengal assembly elections. Surely, this clumsily cobbled clutch of political parties without a unanimously accepted leader would have a huge disadvantage at the hustings.

While Didi will acquire a certain status in the national political hierarchy, will she achieve anything more?

Known to be mercurial and impulsive, how acceptable would she be at an all-India level?

Also the TMC is a Bengal-centric party, a state which has just 8% of the country's population.

Her victory over Modi and Amit Anilchandra Shah in Bengal is not enough. Would Didi not need a footprint in other states?

Besides the 'Oust Modi' campaign, what would be the common agenda that would bind these dissimilar parties together?

The BJP dismisses this alliance of opportunism and is convinced it will be rejected by the electorate.

Tathagata Roy, the senior BJP leader and former Tripura governor, says, "This call to the Opposition has been given four times in the past. Four prime ministers had been elected through this kind of an alliance: V P Singh, Chandrashekhar, Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral. Now it is the fifth time. What makes her think that this will be successful?"

Roy is convinced this is not just a call to unify the Opposition, but Banerjee also has prime ministerial ambitions.

"She has no ideology. She was with the Congress, she allied with the BJP, she ditched the BJP during a difficult situation in 2001, now she is strongly anti-BJP," says Roy. "She will have no acceptability on a national level. Her name does not ring a bell in any other part of the country. This exercise will be a damp squib."

What is important is the fact that Banerjee is being given due credit for having initiated the move towards forging a unified Opposition in the country.

A government without an Opposition is ultimately the defeat of democracy. This clarion call is being seen as a very brave effort.

Even if the Opposition does not win, democracy will be stronger. Just the way the Bengal assembly now has an Opposition to the TMC's brute majority, the country too would benefit.

Will a motley crew of disparate parties be able to put up a collective battle to take on the BJP?

While Khela Hobeworked in Bengal, it remains to be seen how the game plays out in the national arena.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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