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FPJ Edit: Mamata’s cry for help in countering BJP comes days after first phase of polling in Bengal

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In the midst of campaigning for the bitterly-fought assembly poll, and a day before Nandigram, where she herself is facing a tough challenge from her erstwhile colleague and now BJP candidate, Suvendu Adhikari, Mamata Banerjee has appealed for a broader Opposition unity against the BJP. The timing of the letter to leaders of ten Opposition parties, barring those of the CPI and CPI(M), would lend weight to speculation that she is no longer confident of retaining power.

Particularly, the fact that her cry for help in taking on the BJP came two days after the polling in the first phase in the state encompassing 30 assembly seats is no less significant. According to independent poll watchers, the Trinamool Congress does not seem to have fared well in these seats, a point mentioned by her poll strategist Prashant Kishor as well. Calling for a “united and effective struggle against BJP for presenting a credible alternative to the people” would certainly be seen as a sign of weakness by the ordinary people.

There is a suggestion that her writing ahead of the polling in Nandigram and the remaining assembly seats in the 8-phase poll in West Bengal could be a clever strategy to soften the Congress party and others which are arrayed against her. She may be asking them not to help the BJP by ‘wasting’ their votes on the non-TMC candidates. But if this is indeed the objective behind her letter, she did not help her cause by pointedly omitting the CPI and CPI(M) from the list of the Opposition groups.

The attempt to soften the Congress, which is fighting the election in alliance with the left parties, could well create confusion in the ranks of all these parties unless the respective leaderships countered her surprise plea with a firm rejection. Anyway, without the two Communist parties her appeal for Opposition unity would lack conviction, and appear opportunistic, aimed only at rescuing her from her current woes at the hands of the BJP.

The West Bengal Chief Minister used the recent amendment passed by Parliament clarifying that the Lt. Governor of Delhi will be the sanctioning authority for all actions to be taken by the elected government of the Union Territory, arguing that the BJP was anti-democratic and authoritarian and thus needs to be confronted by a united Opposition. The whole litany of charges including the misuse of investigating agencies, attacks on federalism, misuse of gubernatorial offices, etc., are catalogued in her appeal for wider opposition unity.

Among those she has addressed the letter are the leaders of the Congress, NCP, DMK, Shiv Sena, YSR Congress, BJD, TRS, RJD, SP, CPI(ML) and AAP. Mayawati’s BSP and Prakash Singh Badal’s Akali Dal do not figure in the list of ten addressees, aside from a few other omissions such as the leader of the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha or Deve Gowda’s JD(S). It is unclear what response she will elicit at this stage when the focus is on the campaign for the assembly polls. A lot depends on the outcome of the assembly polls. However, it will certainly echo in the campaigning in West Bengal, with her adversaries reading it as a sign of desperation and even of coming defeat. A very ill-timed appeal for unity of anti-BJP forces, indeed.

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