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On ‘Ekushey July’, or on the occasion of Shahid Diwas on July 21, following its best-ever performance in West Bengal’s assembly polls recently, the Trinamool Congress will take its first steps towards expanding its footprints in the rest of the country by telecasting party chairperson and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s speech on giant screens in many parts of India. The aim is clear: to portray Mamata as the most credible face to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

On Shahid Diwas (Martyrs’ Day) every year, an annual mass rally is organised by the Trinamool Congress in remembrance of 13 people gunned down by the Bengal police under Left rule in Kolkata during a protest march organised by Mamata, who was then a Youth Congress leader, on July 21, 1993, while demanding voter identity card to be made the sole document necessary for voting.

The TMC chief has stated on occasions that the “face against BJP or PM Modi” is not important, the key issue is defeating them in the 2024 elections and that should be the priority of all the opposition leaders. However, contrary to this, she had said while campaigning on a wheelchair after sustaining an injury ahead of April-May assembly polls this year: “Aek paaye Bangla joy korbo aar dui paye Delhi agami diney (I will win Bengal on one foot and I will win Delhi on both feet in the future).”

Her attempted ‘mahagathbandhan’, or grand alliance of opposition parties, failed to stop the BJP from running away with the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But, once again, most of the anti-BJP parties have started working on a formula to defeat it in 2024.

PK on the job

Taking the lead, the TMC is sending poll strategist Prashant Kishor, whose term with the party was extended for another five years recently after he orchestrated the assembly election win, on a whirlwind tour to resolve certain differences between Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar and the Gandhis of the Congress.

In the future, Trinamool is expected to approach the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar led by Tejashwi Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh and regional parties in the Northeast to create an effective opposition force against the BJP.

Many political experts feel that it is too early to predict the feasibility of political understanding among the leaders who are against the BJP, because of inevitable differences among them over portfolios, posts, national issues and individual prominence in the future. This is likely to mar their 2024 game plan.

Many times in the past, such alliances failed to take off due to differences of opinion and the outfits ended up contesting alone to secure their bastions rather than taking a collective decision to form a government at the Centre.

Recently, Suvendu Adhikari, BJP MLA from Nandigram and the leader of the opposition in the West Bengal assembly, said about his former Mamata Banerjee that she may be dreaming of becoming the Prime Minister of India but it will be interesting to watch the stand of other non-NDA chief ministers towards her.

Speaking to the News18, Adhikari, who defeated Mamata in the assembly polls, had said, “In 2019, in the name of united India, she dreamt of becoming the Prime Minister. She brought all the non-NDA allies to Kolkata and after that what happened, we all know. Her (TMC’s) strength in Parliament came down to 22 from 34 seats. Once again, she is dreaming of becoming the Prime Minister of India. Dreaming is good. Let her try to convince the non-NDA chief ministers. I want to see their stand…let her try to bring them on one platform. They (non-NDA chief ministers) all know the kind of person Mamata Banerjee is. Her plan is to become the Prime Minister and to make ‘Bhaipo’ (nephew Abhishek Banerjee) the next chief minister of West Bengal. Let her dream.”

Mercurial Mamata

In September 2012, Mamata Banerjee had withdrawn her support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Her differences with Rahul Gandhi are not hidden and she doesn’t have a very amicable relationship with Bahujan Samaj Party supremo and former UP chief minister Mayawati. Also, the TMC’s influence in the north-eastern states is negligible.

Political expert and professor of Jadavpur University (JU) Partha Pratim Biswas feels that though regional parties will play a pivotal role in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, it would be foolish of the TMC to try to outdo the Congress at the national level. The 2024 election will be a referendum on the popularity of Narendra Modi and either a BJP-led coalition or a Congress-led one will come to power, he says. “Beyond West Bengal, the TMC has no presence. Also, it is next to impossible that in less than three years, it will have a strong presence nationally when we have other strong regional parties in other states,” he said.

On Mamata’s attempts to reach out to the anti-BJP forces through Prashant Kishor and expanding her reach to other states through her virtual Shahid Diwas speech, he said, “No doubt that Mamata Banerjee has performed well in the state polls, but she has to decide whether she wants to take on the BJP wholeheartedly or not. She simply cannot divide BJP into the ‘good BJP’ and the ‘bad BJP’.” She needs to be watchful while saying that there are good people in the BJP and in the RSS, he added.

When recently contacted by News18 over the phone about Mamata’s remarks about a united opposition front, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said, “She has a very important role to play and she needs to galvanise some of the other opposition parties, but I don’t want to sabotage any sort of possible unity by putting the cart before the horse because this will give BJP an opportunity/platform to create a rift among us…Nobody can ignore that (the importance of Mamata Banerjee), but we must also keep in mind that unfortunately regional leaders are confined to their individual regions now…So, I think we should play to our strengths and we should work together. We should try and arrive at some sort of common consensus on issues and I think that is where Mamata Banerjee can take a lead in terms of evolving a consensus on issues on which we can fight the BJP.”

Screen time

This will be the 28th year of Shahid Diwas and the Bengal chief minister will deliver her speech virtually at 2pm from her residence at Kalighat in South Kolkata, which will be live telecast in Varanasi, Mirzapur, Lucknow, Bareilly and Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, as also in parts of Gujarat, Tripura, Delhi, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Hundreds of giant screens will be put up at all the important intersections in West Bengal and other states where people can watch and listen to Mamata Banerjee.

On June 7, after the landslide victory in the 2021 assembly polls, Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee had announced that the party will expand its base in other states to take the BJP head-on.

But political observers feel that it won’t be an easy task for the TMC because the possibility of anti-Mamata sentiments bubbling up within the opposition front cannot be ruled out.

In 2018, after Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as the Congress chief, the Bengal CM’s efforts to reach out to young leaders in other states created a buzz in the political circles.

Pleased with the Gujarat assembly poll results after the BJP dropped to 99 seats from 115 in the previous edition, Mamata immediately called up the opposition’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel and congratulated him. Terming it a moral defeat for the BJP in Gujarat, Mamata also congratulated Jignesh Mevani, who won as an independent candidate, and Alpesh Thakor, who won on a Congress ticket.

However, her efforts of reaching out to these young Turks to create a credible opposition force didn’t yield much in the form of results and the BJP came back to power at the Centre next year with a thumping majority.

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