After Mamata Banerjee's Mega Rally: The Fall Out
Major show of strength
Karnataka Chief Minister H.D.Kumaraswamy and former Prime Minister H.D.Deve Gowda were relaxed enough to leave their home state for Kolkata to attend Trinamool Congress party and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s “megal rally” leaving the Congress party managers to guard the coalition flock from poaching. Kumaraswamy who was not very sure that he would attend because of the ongoing crisis in the state with the BJP open about its intent to make the coalition government fall, responded to a telephone call from Banerjee and went for the huge Opposition rally.
The tension is not over, although party insiders believe that the crisis might have just about passed for the ruling government in Karnataka. But as JD-S leader Danish Ali told The Citizen, there is no room to relax as the Karnataka government represents the first successful coalition since 2014 that triggered the opposition parties to begin talks and search for alternatives to the BJP at the state and national level. The success of the TMC rally is indicative of how far the regional allies have travelled since last year when the Congress party and the JD-S were able to successfully ward off pressure from within their own ranks, and stitch together an alliance that has survived so far.
Opposition leaders who were present at Kolkata were agreed that the BJP is keen to bring down the government in Karnataka to prove that coalitions are temporary and cannot last. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started the attack on the proposed alliances for the Lok Sabha polls, stating that the opposition parties are coming together out of ‘majboori’ to bring him down. In fact he spoke even as the lakhs were gathering in Kolkata’s Brigade ground, an indication that he and the BJP are worried about the outcome. He said that they are all coming together against him, but that such coalitions will not work.
The BJP, according to Opposition leaders assessment at the rally, has not given up on bringing the Karnataka government down through blatant horse trading so that it can build a campaign against the ability of such coalition governments to run a nation.
The Kolkata rally is expected to have a positive impact not just on alliances in other states, but on the legislators in Karnataka. The show of strength is indicative of what can be expected in the Lok Sabha polls now, with the Karnataka coalition clearly now projected as part of a larger plan and not restricted to just one state. This, leaders who had attended the Kolkata rally said, will cut into BJP efforts to seduce legislators who so far have been holding firm in the state.
More such rallies are being planned for Tamil Nadu, and perhaps even Delhi with the Congress under opposition pressure to electorally ally with the Aam Aadmi Party for the forthcoming general elections. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is reported to be willing, with Opposition leaders playing mediator in a bid to persuade him not to overextend AAP in Punjab where the Congress dominates, and convince the Congress leadership to build an electoral alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.
The rally also made it clear that the National Conference and not the Peoples Democratic Party will be the alliance partner in any Opposition combine that emerges before or after the polls. National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah who was present at the rally along with son and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, is looking at organising a similar rally in Jammu and Kashmir.
In Uttar Pradesh, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati is not keen to accommodate the Congress party that has been left out of the alliance. Samajwadi party’s Akhilesh Yadav is reported to be willing but not at the cost of alienating ‘Behenji’ who is smarting against the Congress refusal to give her more seats in Rajasthan. “If we do not have a presence beyond a couple of seats in Rajasthan as the Congress said, then they too do not have a presence beyond Amethi and Raebareli that we have left for them,” Mayawati is reported to have told Opposition intermediaries in Kolkata. However, efforts are still on.
Interestingly there has been some resentment about the absence of Congress president Rahul Gandhi from the TMC rally. He sent representatives but several Opposition leaders were of the view that instead of standing on ceremony he should have made the effort to attend the rally. Rahul Gandhi was reportedly responding to resistance from the West Bengal unit of the party, but then as a senior Opposition leader pointed out, his attendance would have added to the message.
Currently the Congress seems to be a little on the periphery with the regional parties finding it easier to deal with each other than with the larger national party. The alliance between two sworn rivals SP and BSP is indicative of this, with Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati managing and building an alliance with each other despite the sceptics but not with the Congress party. Similarly Biju Janata Dal leader and Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has a good relationship with some the erstwhile JD leaders, but retains his suspicions of the Congress and the BJP. In Bihar Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad worked out the contradictions with the Congress party a long while ago, and this alliance thus continues to work in that state.
Interestingly, however despite all the carping everyone spoken to was agreed on two points. One, that the Congress was central to the emerging national coalition and could not be left out. And two, Rahul Gandhi was more than willing to walk the extra step to make alliances possible but was being restrained by state units and the old guard in the party.
Mamata Banerjee has, in the process, endeared herself to the Opposition leaders. She received them personally, took care of the details, and found time for individual meetings with all the leaders. She was a great hostess, was the consensus with senior leaders “deeply satisfied” with the rally and the bandobast.