Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee -- seen as making a beeline for the political space occupied by the Congress -- indicated that she is visualising a fresh opposition line-up for the next general elections. And this, she made clear, is being done because the Congress is not fighting against "the ongoing fascism".
"What is UPA? There is no UPA," Ms Banerjee declared after her meeting with Nationalist Congress chief Sharad Pawar in Mumbai this afternoon. Mr Pawar, who was a key interlocutor of the opposition ahead of the 2019 contest, spelled it out: "Template for 2024".
"A firm alternative course should be made as nobody is fighting against ongoing fascism. No one can do this alone. Whoever is strong in whichever place has to fight. Sharad ji is the senior-most leader and I came to discuss as a political courtesy," she said.
Quizzed about an alternative without the Congress, Mamata Banerjee said, "I agree with whatever Sharad ji said. We need a strong alternative that can fight. If someone does not want to fight what can we do? We want everyone to fight together on the field," said Ms Banerjee, who has been catapulted onto the national stage since her mega victory against the BJP in the April-May assembly elections in Bengal.
Asked if Mr Pawar should lead the UPA, she shot back: "What UPA? There is no UPA now? What is the UPA? We will clear all issues. We want a strong alternative."
Many believe that Ms Banerjee will now be pitched as the face of the opposition. The perception is reinforced by her efforts to make Trinamool Congress the next big national party after the Congress, with a steady stream of incoming leaders giving it a foothold in multiple states -- Goa, Meghalaya, Bihar and Haryana.
Most of the new entrants in her party have been from the Congress.
In Delhi last week, Mamata Banerjee gave an open invitation to any leader who wanted to join Trinamool in its battle against the BJP. She also flared up when asked about a possible meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, questioning if it was "mandatory".
At an event held earlier, Mamata Banerjee explained she was filling the gap in states where the Congress was not fighting and places like Maharashtra should not be "disturbed".
"India is a vast country. And in India there are many political parties. Why will we disturb what is working in Maharashtra? That we will not do. Where there is no possibility for the Congress and they are not willing to compromise, where they are not fighting and BJP is growing, there we will work together," she said.
Later in the evening, Mr Pawar tweeted photos of their meeting, commenting that they had "agreed upon the need to strengthen the collective efforts and commitment towards safeguarding democratic values".
Pleased to meet Hon'ble CM of West Bengal Smt @MamataOfficial at my Mumbai residence. We Discussed various issues. We agreed upon the need to strengthen the collective efforts and commitment towards safeguarding democratic values and ensuring the betterment of our people. pic.twitter.com/ryrVH2hD6N— Sharad Pawar (@PawarSpeaks) December 1, 2021
Last evening, Ms Banerjee met Shiv Sena's Aaditya Thackeray and Sanjay Raut. Her meeting with Uddhav Thackeray did not take place as the Chief Minister is in isolation after a surgery.
The BJP has brushed off Ms Banerjee's efforts to unite the opposition.
Senior BJP leader Dilip Ghosh pointed out that neither Sonia Gandhi nor Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal met Ms Banerjee during her recent Delhi visit.
"The politics that she is doing of dominating everyone is not being liked by those who were once on her side. She may go to Goa, Uttar Pradesh or Himachal Pradesh but she will not get any benefit and neither will she be able to help anyone. In states where Congress has weakened, maybe one or two retired politicians will take her side," Mr Ghosh was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.