On her first visit to Parliament House after her stupendous victory in the recent West Bengal Assembly polls, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said she believes that an anti-Bharatiya Janata Party political front can emerge in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
However, she was quick to rule herself out of the race for the Prime Minister’s post, stating that she would work behind-the-scenes with like-minded political parties and friends for the formation of such an alliance.
Banerjee had made a similar declaration in Kolkata last week during a speech on the occasion of Martyrs’ Day.
“I am a small person…I prefer to stay in my hut but I will help my friends,” she told reporters in Delhi on Tuesday.
Mamata Banerjee also spoke approvingly of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s efforts to widen his footprint across the country and referred affectionately to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
The West Bengal chief minister had a dinner meeting with Nitish Kumar on Tuesday and did not rule out a meeting with Kejriwal during her three-day stay in Delhi.
In this connection, it was significant that she did not reject reports that she may campaign for Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party in next year’s Punjab and Goa Assembly polls.
Banerjee had openly supported Nitish Kumar in last year’s Assembly polls in Bihar and has warmed up to Kejriwal after his emphatic victory in Delhi.
Admitting that their attempts to cobble together an alternate political front did not fructify in the 2014 general election, Banerjee blamed the Congress for this, stating that the party did not take the other parties into confidence and instead chose to play it solo.
Asked if she expected the Congress to take the lead in building an anti-BJP political front, she merely replied, “The Congress should work at restoring its lost credibility.”
Questioned about what her response would be if Congress president Sonia Gandhi reached out to the Trinamool Congress for an alliance, Banerjee skirted the issue. “It’s too early to talk about this…it will all depend on the situation at that time,” she said.
Tellingly, she chose to remain silent when asked about the Prime Minister’s promise to deliver a “Congress-mukt” India. “My silence should answer your question,” she remarked cryptically.
West Bengal-Centre relations
The tone and tenor of Mamata Banerjee’s comments on the emergence of an alternate political front clearly suggested that all is not well between her and the Modi government.
The West Bengal chief minister has been pressing the Centre for a debt waiver but her pleas have not found favour with Prime Minister Narendra Modi or finance minister Arun Jaitley who cite rules to point out that it will not be possible to oblige Banerjee.
This bitterness was also evident in her informal interaction with media persons in Delhi on Tuesday when she criticised the Centre for the unilateral manner in which it draws up and scraps programmes without prior consultations with state governments.
While Mamata Banerjee’s remarks are being viewed favourably by the Congress, the BJP is obviously unhappy as it had hoped that after the heat and dust of the Assembly polls, she would drop her earlier hostility as she needs Central funds for the state.
Though Banerjee is known to be unpredictable and could still be won over in the coming days, the Trinamool Congress chief’s declaration ruling herself out as a future Prime Ministerial candidate has come as a surprise to the BJP which is convinced that a battle among the various prime ministerial contenders – Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, J Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik – will come in the way of the formation of an alternate political front.
Since a division among the secular parties works to the advantage of the BJP, the saffron party is bound to redouble its efforts in coming days to see that its leaders do not come together on a common platform.
Eye on 2019
The next general election is not due till 2019 but it is clear that political parties have started positioning themselves for the grand battle ahead.
These are still tentative steps and much will depend especially on the outcome of next year’s Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
If the BJP fares poorly in these elections, regional forces and the Congress will be encouraged to work for the formation of an anti-BJP front. Alternatively, a success for the BJP will embolden Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to go for broke in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.