The biggest political question in the country today is whether the TMC will replace Congress as the main national Opposition. That plays to the BJP’s advantage for obvious reasons. It pushes to the backdrop the question of whether the BJP could be replaced at the Centre in 2024. And the TMC’s aggressive foray into national politics after winning Bengal threatens to cut into the Congress’s votes and weaken it further.
The Congress is already calling the TMC the B-team of the BJP. A steadily strengthening narrative is that parties like TMC, AAP, and Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM are fighting polls in newer states with the tacit of active backing of the BJP. It splits anti-BJP votes and weakens the Congress.
The Congress has openly articulated this grouse, inviting the retort that it reeks of the party’s deep, dynastic sense of entitlement. Any party is free to contest elections in a democracy. With Congress losing more than 90 percent of the elections it has fought in the last 10 years — a point brought up by TMC’s hired strategist Prashant Kishor in a recent tweet — it does not have the “divine right” to lead the Opposition.
The IDEA and SPACE that #Congress represents is vital for a strong opposition. But Congress’ leadership is not the DIVINE RIGHT of an individual especially, when the party has lost more than 90% elections in last 10 years.
Let opposition leadership be decided Democratically.
— Prashant Kishor (@PrashantKishor) December 2, 2021
Standing alongside NCP boss Sharad Pawar, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee proclaimed last week, “What is UPA? There is no UPA now.” She also took a dig at Congress scion Rahul Gandhi’s frequent foreign trips.
And there probably lies the Congress greatest weakness. Mamata, like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is a 24X7 politician. She does not have distractions. Her commitment is total, unlike Rahul, who went off on foreign trips during some of the nation’s most important political developments, including at the peak of the farmer’s protests.
His sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra appears sporadically too, although those appearances have become more frequent in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh polls.
While it is the Congress leadership’s crippling drawback, it is not something that cannot be fixed if the protagonists so willed.
It is perhaps more difficult for Mamata to overcome the language barrier and be accepted as a mainstream party in the Hindi heartland and in vast south India. The Congress, despite its waning presence in both these electorally fecund grounds, has a lot more recall value.
TMC cannot mainstream itself by picking spent forces like Yashwant Sinha or Kirti Azad. Apparently, many from the Congress G-23 rebels could head for the TMC. But these are mostly talking heads, lawyers, and intellectuals well past their political expiry date. These leaders shifting in droves may actually help Rahul and Priyanka clean up the party without bloodshed.
Where the TMC could score over the Congress is that Mamata, for her savage opposition to the BJP, her politics of Muslim appeasement, and demonstrated success in her state, may sway a large section of Muslims across states. Even if she gets 30 percent of the Muslim vote share, it can dent not just the Congress but regional ‘secular’ parties allied with Congress.
But what could be the clincher in who dominates India’s Opposition in the future will be the floating Hindu vote. While the BJP has cornered the committed Hindu vote beyond all doubt, there is a section of Hindus not ideologically anchored in Hindutva and who could potentially vote against the BJP.
The Opposition may woo minorities as much as it wishes, but without this Hindu vote, it cannot come to power at the Centre.
The Congress has done a fair bit to alienate even this undecided Hindu population. The Gandhis and their minions keep attacking “Hindutva” without ever uttering words like “Islamist terrorism” or extremism. It has carefully built a fringe, far-Left space for itself, ceding the central ground of Indian politics to the BJP.
However, after years of brazen Muslim appeasement by Mamata and the massacre unleashed on the BJP-RSS workers and Hindus in general after the 2021 Bengal elections, this floating Hindu voter base may choose the Congress over the TMC.
After all, indifference is better than violent, predatory politics against a community.
Also, the Indian voter is smart. Whether anti-BJP voters sense that the arrival of the TMC may split the Opposition vote, they may consolidate behind the Congress.
In balance, the Congress still has an edge over the TMC, AAP, and others expanding their footprints. A win in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa may bolster that advantage. But the lazy, anti-majority, and shoot-and-scoot politics of the younger Gandhis could quickly make that edge vanish.