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Opposition CMs' Support for Kejriwal Exposes Fault Lines in 'Anti-Modi' Group

The absence of Congress, the TRS and BJD in the solidarity show has added a sour note exposing fissures in the anti-Modi grouping.

Kay Benedict |

Updated:June 19, 2018, 8:21 AM IST
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Opposition CMs' Support for Kejriwal Exposes Fault Lines in 'Anti-Modi' Group
(L-R) West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy, Kerela CM Pinarayi Vijayan and Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu during a meeting at Andhra Bhawan in New Delhi. (File photo: PTI)
On Saturday, Opposition politics unveiled yet another unusual visual. Strange bedfellows huddling together to declare support to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is on a sit-in against the Centre. The most striking oddity of the frame was that it included West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her bête noire CPM leader and Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan along with Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu and Karnataka’s HD Kumaraswamy.

The photo-op has underlined two parallel narratives. After the Bengaluru display of Opposition unity at the Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in, the four non-BJP CMs arrival in Delhi to back their beleaguered colleague and Aam Aadmi Party chief is a measure of their collective determination to take on the BJP at national level.

While it should be worrying for the saffron party, there are also fault lines that should cheer up BJP. The absence of Congress, the TRS and BJD in the solidarity show has added a sour note exposing fissures in the anti-Modi grouping.

What is the political implication of arch Bengal rivals -- CPM and the Trinamool Congress -- coming under the same frame? There is no love lost between West Bengal unit of the CPM and Mamata Banerjee ever since she dislodged its government; the Marxists accuse her of playing communal politics enabling the BJP to usurp the Left space in the state.

The state unit has been pressing for an alliance with the Congress to take on the TMC that the powerful Kerala lobby has been opposing much to the delight of Banerjee. However, CPM Hyderabad Congress has since approved tactical alliances with secular parties, including the Congress. Pinarayi Vijayan’s photo-op with Banerjee may not be to the liking of the Bengal comrades as it enhances the TMC chief’s profile.

Interestingly, Banerjee and Vijayan did not exchange any pleasantries at the Bengaluru venue but two days later she surprised political observers by sending greetings on his 74th birthday via Twitter. In the last one month this is the third time CPM and TMC leaders shared a common platform, after Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in where Mamata, Yechury and Vijayan shared the podium and last week Yechury and TMC law maker Dinesh Trivedi were seated in the same table at Rahul Gandhi’s Iftar party last week.

The bonhomie is bound to create some unease in West Bengal where the cadres of both the parties are engaged in violent clashes. With Banerjee assuming a pro-active national role eyeing PM post, her stock is expected to rise in the home state making revival of the CPM very difficult. Party sources admitted that even a subtle projection of Banerjee as potential PM candidate would pump the Bengali psyche and help the TMC sweep the Lok Sabha polls trouncing the CPM, BJP and the Congress.

However, a party leader who refused to be quoted said media is reading too much into these stray “photo-ops”. The CPM is supporting Kejriwal on the issue of “federalism” and that it has no bearing on Bengal politics. The TMC cannot win elections by just these shows. “She will be judged by her performance and governance, not a photo-op”, he said.

Nevertheless, fault lines in the Opposition were visible with Telengana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who was talking about the need for Federal Front and his Odisha counterpart Navin Patnaik, skipping the Delhi show while a confused Congress is yet to get its act together.

After sacrificing its political interests in Karnataka for the sake of greater Opposition unity, the Congress slipped in Delhi as it declined to join the four CMs in backing Kejriwal’s fight against Modi government. Though political secretary to Congress president Ahmed Patel had a quiet meeting with Mamata Banerjee on Sunday, the Congress is wary of Kejriwal’s politics.

The party suspects that Kejriwal has sympathisers in the RSS and that what he is doing is only “dramawazi” to cover up governance deficit. Unlike the regional satraps, the Congress has to factor in its pan-India interests. The AAP tried to derail Congress prospects in Punjab, Goa, and Karnataka and its plans to contest Rajasthan and Haryana polls will end up helping BJP, party insiders fear.

Sources said the Congress also did not want to antagonize the powerful bureaucracy which is at loggerheads with the AAP government in Delhi by aligning with Kejriwal. However, some in the party feel that the high command could have delinked Kejriwal as a political rival from “the wider issue of Opposition unity and federalism that the Modi government has been trampling upon.”

The party could have taken a nuanced stand and asked its Puducherry chief minister Narayanaswamy, who is also facing heat from a hyperactive governor Kiran Bedi, to join the four CMs. That way the Congress could have maintained a distance with the AAP even while remaining in the pole position of the emerging anti-BJP coalition; that is the art of managing contradictions.

(The author is a senior journalist and political commentator. Views are personal.)

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