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Mamata Banerjee has set her sights on Delhi

But uniting a diverse front of anti-BJP parties won’t be easy

editorials Updated: Jul 31, 2018 18:21 IST
regional leader,Third Front,Trinamool Congress
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addresses a press conference over Assam’s National Register of Citizen (NRC) draft, in Howrah, July 30. Ever since she swept to power in West Bengal, Ms Banerjee has been trying to expand her footprint beyond her state. (PTI)

Mamata Banerjee’s fury against the recently released NRC suggests that this will be part of her ammunition as she takes on the ruling BJP on a number of issues from demonetisation to cow vigilantism. While she may be addressing a national audience, it is clear that she plans to use her popularity and her performance in the state to widen the canvas. As of now, she has 34 seats of the 42 from the state to the Lok Sabha. But, come 2019, she has set her sights on a clean sweep. If this materialises, and neither the BJP nor the Congress gets the numbers needed to form a government on their own or lead a coalition, the political game changes for Ms Banerjee. This explains why she is not too enthusiastic about the role of the Congress as a pre-eminent force in the Federal Front which is on the anvil now.

Ever since she swept to power in West Bengal, grabbing 211 seats of the 294-member Assembly in 2016, Ms Banerjee has been trying to expand her footprint beyond her state of 91.3 million people. But the challenge is formidable. She will have to cobble together a diverse front of anti-BJP outfits, each with its own agenda and aspirations, and channelise their energies towards a common cause, that of ousting the BJP at any cost.

Ms Banerjee never tires of emphasising that the front will be an alliance of equals. While she has refused to be drawn in to any debate on who will be the prime ministerial face of the front, saying that she herself has no such ambitions, her party leaders seem to differ. They lose no opportunity to say that she should be India’s first Bengali prime minister. But Ms Mamata’s track record makes her a fickle ally for many parties. She has switched sides with ease in the past. A year after she founded the Trinamool Congress, she joined the National Democratic Alliance in 1999 only to quit it in early 2001. The same year, she tied up with the Congress to fight the Bengal Assembly poll that year. She returned to the NDA fold in January 2004 and quit in 2009. The same year, she joined the UPA II and left in a huff in 2012. However, at the moment, she has come out all guns blazing against the Modi government and seems determined to lead from the front in the campaign to oust the BJP. The first question is whether she will be acceptable as the first among equals in the front. The second is whether she is prepared to function under anyone else. All this makes the front seem shaky from the outset.

First Published: Jul 31, 2018 18:20 IST