It is hard to guess how most people in Congress feel about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, but the BJP has certainly been quite happy with it. But that time may be over.
Mamata Banerjee has arrived in Delhi. She has checked in with a carousel full of confidence and ambition after her thumping win in Bengal, as also growing baggage of court cases and human rights indictments amid accusations by the BJP that her party has enabled the slaughter of her rivals as part of its bloody and unending victory lap.
She is busy making friends everywhere.
Then there is Sharad Pawar. As old and inscrutable in Indian politics as the Sphinx is in Egyptology.
Then there are regional pastures packed with dark horses. The Stalins, Jagans, KCRs, Uddhavs, Tejashwis, Sorens, Pinarayis, Kejriwals, Akhileshes, Muftis and Abdullahs.
And finally, a marketing guru whose legend is being carefully fattened by himself, fed by occasional victories — albeit in an advisory role — over the seemingly unassailable BJP. Prashant Kishor’s role in these triumphs is difficult to measure, as those have come piggybacking on formidable local mass leaders like Amarinder Singh, MK Stalin, Arvind Kejriwal, and now Mamata Banerjee. But a tiny but growing number in the urban, anti-Modi camp believe Prashant Kishor could be the wildcard they are waiting for to dethrone Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So, let us quickly look at a few smaller equations and solve the larger riddle. Here is where Opposition politics stands now:
- Mamata now has the ambition to be the prime minister. So does Rahul, for a long time. Although Mamata respects Sonia Gandhi and has a line open with her, she and Rahul won’t easily accept the other’s leadership.
- Mamata has momentum with her now. Muslims may solidly rally behind her because of her politics. But will the rest of India accept her? Is language going to be a huge barrier in the heartland? Mamata is a brilliantly instinctive politician. She knows her own shortcomings. Is she playing for the Queen, or the Kingmaker?
- Rahul’s own position in the party is tenuous. The G-23 revolt is bubbling just beneath the surface. Its last big bastions, Punjab and Rajasthan, are both a nastily divided house. A couple of more state defeats may split the Congress. Who will G-23 go with?
- A section of Congress’s G-23 rebels are in favour of making Sharad Pawar the UPA chairperson. Others want Mamata.
- Pawar is not in the best of health. His immediate concern will be his daughter Supriya Sule’s political future, with nephew Ajit Pawar snapping at her heels. Pawar doesn’t know how Rahul or Mamata will treat her. The NCP chief shares a good and long rapport with Modi. Do the maths.
- The BJP has been steadily building a case against Mamata over Bengal revenge massacre and misrule. It is not beyond Modi or Amit Shah to target her weakest spot, the beloved nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, in one of many corruption cases that have riddled her administration.
- KCR and Jagan Reddy do not trust the current Congress leadership. But will they be willing to go with Mamata? Do they gain more from giving Modi tacit, backstage support and keep getting the goodies from the Centre?
- When Uddhav Thackeray goes back to his core electorate in the next elections, can he afford to go with an anti-HIndutva, pro-Congress-NCP plank? Or jumping ship makes more sense, now that his ego of becoming the CM has been satisfied?
- If Mamata and Rahul fight separately, who will Tejashwi and Akhilesh choose? Both have paid a high price for their generosity towards Congress in seat-sharing. But will Mamata bring any value to their heartland votes? Is it wise for them to her the keys to their Muslim vote bank on a platter?
- In the current J&K scenario, do Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah even matter?
- Will Pinarayi Vijayan support the Congress at the Centre, his main rival in the state? Will he join hands with Mamata, when his party cadre accuse her of butchering them in Bengal?
- There are whispers in Delhi that Prashant Kishor is negotiating with the Congress for a vice president post. If there is even a grain of truth in it, he may eventually try to replace the Gandhis themselves. Also, for all the hype, how much difference can PK make on the ground if he fights an election himself?
There are thousands of more nuances, hundreds of moves to unfold before the 2024 elections. As one can see from just these dozen scenarios, who will emerge as the main face of the Opposition is quite clear…clear as mud.