Modi obsession may overwhelm Mamata-led opposition

The Supreme Court of India’s ruling on Tuesday (Feb 5) ordering Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar to appear before the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) at a hill station in another state may have come as a huge embarrassment for West Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee who was trying to protect him.

But by shifting the nation’s focus from the recent buzz created by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mammoth rally in Durpaur to her three-day sit-in protest drama in Kolkata from Sunday, Mamata sent a message to 20-odd opposition parties that she is their prime ministerial candidate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. 

Last month, it was Mamata who brought opposition leaders together at a rally in Kolkata to form a grand coalition to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the make-or-break polls in April.

Two other prime ministerial aspirants — Mayawati of the socialist Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rahul Gandhi of the Conservative Congress — skipped the rally as they did not want to be eclipsed by Mamata at the grand unity show. Instead, the two leaders sent their representatives to the meeting.

After Mamata’s unprecedented defiance of the federal government this Sunday by briefly detaining five CBI officers and refusing permission for choppers of top BJP leaders to land in her state for political campaigns, the chances of Mayawati or Rahul leading the coalition appear remote.

Most parties of the grand coalition are likely to throw their weight behind the unassuming and self-made Mamata than the temperamental Mayawati or dynastic and ambitious Rahul.

If the grand coalition does not crumble before the general elections and the fight boils down to opposition versus Modi, 2019 elections is going to be an exciting and close contest in which a slight swing in votes may matter a lot in deciding the winner.

What binds so many opposition parties, who until recently could not see eye to eye, is a deep hatred for Modi, a leader with a mission to transform India into something all citizens can be proud of. Modi and his cabinet team have an unblemished record unlike those of the previous Congress-led regimes.

Knowing that they are facing a formidable rival in Modi, opposition parties first started calling him names to distract and provoke him to do something silly. When that did not work, they spun a tale around the India-France Rafale fighter jets deal depicting him as a ‘chor’ (‘thief’). French President Emmanuel Macron exposed their lie.

Later, two India ministers’ point-to-point rebuttal of their charges silenced them. Now, in sheer desperation, they are chanting Mamata’s favourite slogan ‘Modi ko hatao, desh ko bachao (‘Oust Modi, save India’). Mamata chanted that slogan many times on Tuesday (Feb 5) in her speech marking the end of her sit-in protest after the court order went against her police commissioner.

While staging the sit-in protest to ‘save the constitution’, Mamata was violating the same by denying permission to BJP leaders’ planes to land in her state to address political rallies. Mamata is insecure and fears the BJP will eat into her party’s votes and win several seats. Neither she nor her pre-poll alliance partners can block BJP ministers or any other political rivals from entering their respective ‘fiefdoms.’

The right to freedom of movement is enshrined in the constitution. The Election Commission is examining complaints from BJP leaders about obstructions being created in their free movement from their respective states to West Bengal.

India voter is intelligent. Opposition cannot get votes through catchy slogans or by levelling unsubstantiated charges against Modi. The voter wants to know how the opposition can deliver better governance than the existing one.

Congress has ruled India for more than six decades. Provincial parties such as Samajwadi Party and BSP have ruled UP, which sends 70 MPs to parliament, for many years. But states like UP and Bihar remained backward for decades because of rampant corruption and poor governance.

West Bengal too remained backward because of misrule by successive governments led by Congress, Communist party and Mamata’s Trinamool Congress over several years.

BJP, a comparatively new party, did not have a magic wand to mesmerise voters. They grew because governments ruled by parties like Congress failed to deliver. When the poor became poorer, they voted for change. If voters in Bengal feel the Modi government can bring them more opportunities and make their state prosperous, they may send more BJP lawmakers to Parliament.

By trying to malign Modi and his party, Mamata and other opposition party leaders have given BJP more political space.

When elections draw closer and the pressure to win mounts, the clamour for Modi’s ouster will grow louder to his advantage. The way Mamata was chanting it on Tuesday makes one feel that the Modi obsession may overwhelm the Opposition unless they change their strategy.