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Little Applause

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It was a large gathering, indeed, at WB Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s rally in Kolkata on Saturday, but it did not evoke the kind of enthusiasm expected among what is generally described as the Lutyen’s media. Considering that a large section of the intellectual elite and the media has been shouting so long for PM Modi’s head, it should have been elated by the cross-section of politicians the TMC Supremo had managed to gather. Is it because, like the SP-BSP tie-up that has shown the Congress its place in UP, the shape of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in Kolkata also failed to acknowledge the party’s presence in West Bengal?
For many, it is not just a question of removing Modi from office, but also who would take his place. Much of the Congress narrative revolves around positioning Rahul Gandhi as the ‘natural’ choice for Prime Minister once the objectives of a united opposition are achieved. On the other hand, almost all regional parties are aware that, should the BJP fail to get a majority, it is they who would likely have the most seats as a group. Despite this, the Congress seeks a pre-eminent position on the basis of a likely larger number of seats compared to any one party. Even in the present Lok Sabha, despite having a mere forty-four seats, which are less than, say, the AIADMK and Trinamool Congress put together, it has enjoyed centre-stage, and its leader has occupied the seat, if not the status of Leader of the Opposition. This has skewed debates as Congress leaders have been given time and importance not available to a much larger number of members in the Opposition benches. The lack of unity and common purpose among the rest has resulted in the general failure to pressurise the government on their causes. In the battle of perceptions outside the House, too, the Congress has received public attention beyond the actual clout it enjoys.
It is obvious that the ‘third front’ is unwilling to have this situation repeated. This is why it is insisting on not presenting a prime ministerial candidate before the polls. In fact, it is being made sure that Rahul Gandhi is not treated as the ‘natural’ choice. This is why a number of regional leaders are positioning themselves in the spot, which includes Mamata, Mayawati, Akhilesh, Chandrababu Naidu, etc., for various reasons. Ideally, they would like numbers that would not require Congress support at all.
Quite obviously, those who have lived off the Congress eco-system all these years are bitterly disappointed with the way things are going. So, not so much cheering at the turnout in Kolkata!