Contrasting images of an entire opposition on the same platform in Kolkata against a lone Narendra Modi atop a K9 howitzer in Hazira were meme stuff of the day. But politically did the Mamata Banerjee show of strength change anything on the ground for the 2019 general elections? None. If anything, its exposed chinks in opposition’s arsenal and added to the confusion among its ranks.
Despite Rahul Gandhi’s letter of support, his absence was a loud admission of lack of acceptability of the Gandhi scion by a broad swathe of what now constitutes anti-BJP political spectrum. Also missing was an elephant on the dais – tongue firmly in cheek – Mayawati. Only a week back, with the BSP supremo by his side, Akhilesh Yadav had quipped that next Prime Minister should also be from Uttar Pradesh. Again tongue firmly in cheek, for he could not have meant Rahul Gandhi having just excluded him from the UP alliance. Other notable absentees included Naveen Patnaik, Asaduddin Owaisi, KCR, Jaganmohan Reddy, and the standard bearers of secularism from the entire left.
So what do we make of the Kolkata rally? For one, it is not the first time that opposition forces have attempted to come together. Sharad Pawar had organised a save-Constitution rally in Mumbai on January 26 last year gathering most of the same faces. He followed it up with an opposition dinner at his residence a day before the start of the budget session on January 29. While Mamata was not invited, both SP and BSP were absent. Reportedly, Congress leaders took great pains to emphasize during the dinner that Sonia Gandhi was still the UPA chief, thus suggesting senior opposition leaders would not have to do business with a “junior” Rahul yet. The opposition again shared a platform at the swearing-in of the JDS-Congress government in Bengaluru in May 2018.
More likely, the Brigade ground show of strength was just that – Mamata’s show of strength. An ever combat ready streetfighter, Mamata is facing a very aggressive push from the BJP in Bengal. It is a belief in the BJP leadership that Bengal provides a substantial potential to recover some of the losses it would suffer in the Hindi heartland. Hence the push for the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Mamata senses trouble as can be seen from the doggedness with which her government is denying BJP permission to hold rath yatras through the State. Taking the battle right into the enemy camp seems to be Mamata’s strategy to deal with it.
That is why, as a build-up to the Kolkata rally, Mamata has crisscrossed the country to bring together the opposition to ward off the BJP. In a true gorilla spirit, she even met Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai a few months ago. She was first off the block to withdraw CBI jurisdiction from Bengal, first to condemn the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) surveillance order, and first to refuse sharing of State government data with the Centre, launching her own dashboard online.
Some of the Mamata acolytes cannot be faulted for believing – as Madan Mitra did in some television soundbites – that she could be the dark horse for the Prime Minister’s job. But talking about dark horses, there was an original one on the dais on Saturday. HD Devegowda had recently moved into 5, Safdarjung Lane in Lutyen’s Delhi – the same house he occupied in 1996 when destiny chose him as PM of the United Front. The opposition game is still wide open.