It’s an acid test that the Opposition is not willing to lose but given the tumultuous ties and game of one-upmanship between two of its most crucial constituents — the Congress and the Trinamool Congress — this one will be a closely watched contest on the road to the 2024 elections.
As TMC supremo and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee get ready to land in Delhi on June 14, a day ahead of the big, fat Opposition meeting to arrive at a consensus on the face of the Presidential election, the biggest question is who will call the shots in the Opposition camp.
The question arises after Banerjee personally invited 22 leaders for June 15, invoking via a letter that a “strong effective opposition is required to fight against divisive forces”. This, party insiders say, was an attempt to reach out to the entire opposition spectrum — from Arvind Kejriwal to KCR and also the Left.
The move, however, took Congress’s top brass by surprise since they claim that they had unofficially started the process of back-channel talks and initiated holding a meeting.
While both the Congress and the TMC agree on NCP supremo Sharad Pawar as the Opposition’s pick for the top job, Banerjee’s invitation seems to have irked the Congress high command — especially at a time when the Grand Old Party is scurrying to keep its house in order and stem defections.
In a statement, the Congress said party chief Sonia Gandhi had initiated opposition talks as part of which they had reached out to Pawar and Banerjee and deputed veteran leader Mallikarjun Kharge to help build consensus.
The blow hot, blow cold relationship between Sonia Gandhi and Banerjee is not new. After the Bengal results, in which the TMC chief won a landslide victory, Banerjee reached out to Sonia Gandhi and the two had a warm meeting in Delhi, setting rumor mills abuzz with talks of a possible alliance.
However, things soon went downhill when Congress accused TMC of “poaching” Sushmita Dev and Mukul Sangma.
Despite the tension, TMC insiders say the party is positive about going ahead with the Congress but the impediment, once again, is the age-old question: Who gets to play big brother?
According to political experts, the Presidential election will be a litmus test for the Opposition to see if they can come together for a semi-final before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls where they face the BJP behemoth.
The 22 leaders that Banerjee reached out to are Arvind Kejriwal, Pinarayi Vijayan, Naveen Patnaik, Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao, MK Stalin, Uddhav Thackeray, Hemant Soren, Bhagwant Mann, Sonia Gandhi, Lalu Prasad Yadav, D Raja, Sitaram Yechury, Akhilesh Yadav, Sharad Pawar, Jayant Chaudhary, HD Kumaraswamy, HD Deve Gowda, Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Pawan Chamling and KM Kader Mohideen.
While the invites have been sent, the questions on everyone’s minds are: Will Kejriwal be keen to share the space with Congress? Will KCR give his approval? What about the senior leaders of Congress? Will Left become a part of the united effort?
If the Opposition can come together to put up a common candidate, it will be no less than a feat but experts say the TMC will ensure that the June 15 meeting does not showcase the Congress as the driver of the bloc.