A lot of political observers are asking why Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of Bengal and leader of the Trinamool Congress, seems to be in the thick of opposition politics in the run-up to the 2019 election.
The answer is obvious.
This is a lady who, after close to four decades of dedication and struggle, built a party organisation from the grassroots and defeated the CPI(M) in Bengal. She has been an MP for 25 years, first elected in 1984. She has been a union cabinet minister three times. She has won a series of recent elections, and was re-elected for a second term as Chief Minister in 2016 - on the platform of development and diversity.
As 2019 approaches, Mamata Banerjee is comfortably placed. Trinamool is certain to sweep Bengal and re-emerge as a strong force in the 17th Lok Sabha. Naturally, other parties and political leaders are phoning her, meeting her and seeking her counsel. In Telangana, the ruling party, the TRS, also seems to be optimistic. The Chief Minister there too is active, as any forward-looking politician would be a year before an election. During a recent visit to Hyderabad, as a student of politics, I detected a strong anti-BJP, anti-Modi mood. I have no doubt that this is why the TRS is planning for an alternative regime in 2019. And why the TDP is distancing itself from an increasingly unpopular central government.
There are other state-level leaders too whom Mamata Banerjee has been in touch with - MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu, Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, even Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra. It is not that Trinamool always agrees with these parties. We all have different programmes and ideologies. At Trinamool's core committee meet held on Friday, Mamata Banerjee put it in a way only she can - "We don't mind playing the role of a squirrel. We will be effective without wanting to hog the limelight." One way to look at it is that the situation warrants an anti-BJP front. This has to be put together. The Trinamool has been promoting pro-people politics and policies, rather than "anti" anything. But there is anger and distrust against the BJP government, and we are encouraging alternative forces, state by state. That is the logic of a federal force which is a positive rather than negative formulation.
It is time to maximise opposition coordination through formal and informal means. The best example of "informal" is in Uttar Pradesh, where the SP and the BSP are fighting the Phulpur by-election together. In other states, a single party is battling the BJP. Bengal and Odisha are two such states.
Where does the Congress fit in? Of course they have a role to play. They add considerable momentum to the concept of the federal force in those states where it matters and where it has the local leadership and organisation to present an alternative to the BJP. We gladly acknowledge that in at least six states, the Congress is the BJP's principal opponent. Karnataka is one such state. We in the opposition are looking at the Congress to deliver Karnataka. It came very close to winning Gujarat. Karnataka is a big match - all the best to the Congress. Later in the year, there are elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress is best positioned to annihilate the BJP.
Postscript: Keep an eye on March 14 - there's one Lok Sabha bypoll result in Uttar Pradesh which needs to be closely watched. The BJP won Phulpur by over 3 lakh votes in 2014. During the subsequent assembly polls, they were ahead by 1 lakh, thirty thousand. Fasten your seat belt for March 14. That winning margin is under pressure.Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.