Didi-Akhilesh meeting sparks unity speculations with a pinch of salt
A 45-minute close-door talk between Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party national president Akhilesh Yadav on Friday, on which the ruling Trinamul dispensation in Bengal refrained from issuing a formal statement till late evening, opened doors for fervent speculations on the possibility of regional parties working towards forming a third front to take on the BJP in the 2024 general elections which would not include the Congress.
"It has been decided that the TMC and the SP would work unitedly to fight the BJP. Both the parties would also maintain distance from the Congress," Kiranmoy Nanda, national vice president of the Samajwadi Party, said after the meeting. Nanda was among the leaders present at the meeting where SP leaders like Shivpal Singh Yadav also flanked their party chief.
The SP leaders are on a three-day visit to Calcutta to attend the party’s national executive meeting which starts on Saturday.
The Mamata-Akhilkesh meeting, which took place at the former’s Kalighat residence in south Calcutta, was projected as the first of the multiple meets that Banerjee is scheduled to hold with like-minded regional leaders of the country over the next few weeks. The only premise of these meetings, it now seems, is to fight the BJP without having the Congress on board.
Mamata Banerjee is scheduled to travel to Puri on 21 March to offer her prayers at the Jagannath Temple and would be calling on Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar on the 23rd where the two leaders are likely to discuss the prospects of developing an issue-based platform of regional parties minus the Congress.
Later, in April this year, Banerjee is also likely to attend a meeting of opposition leaders in Delhi convened by Aam Admi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal.
"Regional parties are competent enough to decide their roles. Congress has to decide its role. Nobody should take any step which might have any adverse impact (on fighting the BJP)," Akhilesh Yadav said in Calcutta while adding that there are several faces in the opposition camp who can become the prime minister.
“Front, alliance, gathbandhan… call it what you will,” Yadav said expressing hope for a nationwide joint platform in the run-up to the 2024 polls.
Earlier in the day, while addressing a meeting of SP workers at the Moulali Yuva Kendra in central Calcutta, Yadav said: “If there’s one leader who has fulfilled the task of conducting Ghar Wapsi for the BJP, it’s Didi. We should be fighting the BJP in much the same way as Mamata Banerjee is fighting them in Bengal.”
Both TMC and SP have thrown their weight behind one another in the past. Yadav had lent his party's support to the TMC during the 2021 Bengal assembly polls by not fielding any candidate. The gesture was reciprocated by Banerjee when she campaigned for the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister at Lucknow and Varanasi during the 2022 election in that state.
But the TMC-SP relationship has not been without glitches. Back in 2012, Banerjee swallowed a bitter pill when the then SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav took a last-minute u-turn to support Pranab Mukherjee as the Congress’s presidential candidate after initially rallying with Banerjee to project APJ Abdul Kalam as the candidate for TMC and SP, two of the key constituents of the UPA-II regime.
Given the chequered history of opposition forces, which invariably fell apart before ever managing to stitch a united front against the BJP despite multiple attempts and shows over the last decade, political observers are skeptical about sticking their neck out and vouching for any such dramatic outcome in the months ahead.