United opposition? Victorious state leaders have their task cut out to challenge BJP at Centre


The most striking feature of the latest round of assembly polls was the strong showing by regional parties and leaders. While Mamata Banerjee’s TMC secured an emphatic victory in Bengal in the face of BJP’s electoral juggernaut, down south it was DMK’s MK Stalin and the LDF coalition’s Pinarayi Vijayan who swept local sentiments. And with these results coming at a time when a vacuum exists in the national opposition space – thanks to Congress’s continuing decline across the country – hopes have been rekindled of regional forces coalescing together to take on the BJP behemoth at the Centre.

Recall that Mamata herself had written a letter to opposition leaders in the middle of the Bengal polls, calling on them to unite against BJP’s alleged subversion of constitutional federalism. In fact, it can be argued that Centre-state relations today are at a low due to BJP’s no-holds-barred electoral approach. Theoretically this has created common cause among regional chieftains to band together. However, historically the third front has needed a national party to serve as an anchor. This was the case with the two United Front governments in the 1990s which were supported by Congress from outside.

Even then internal contradictions among regional formations saw third front governments fall before their time. Therefore, for such an experiment to be revived today sans a formidable national party, a strong regional leader must act as the central pole. With Mamata’s thumping Bengal win, she is a top candidate for this role. If she is serious about the national spotlight, she will have to shed Bengali parochialism and craft a national image for herself. To begin with, she should stop her party workers from engaging in post-poll violence. Only genuine statesmanship can bridge the gap between Bengal’s didi and the nation’s leader of opposition.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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