NEW DELHI: Mamata Banerjee emerged as the pre-eminent opposition leader in the country on Sunday, beating the formidable forces of the ruling BJP at the Centre-led by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah.
Leading her party for a third term, Banerjee swept the West Bengal polls by leading in 215 of the 294 assembly seats till Sunday evening and established her complete hold on the state’s politics.
With this, she checked the BJP’s march from state to state – limiting the saffron party to below 80 seats (leads)- even after Modi and Shah together addressed 77 rallies in the state.
In an unprecedented eight phase election, a battery of Union cabinet ministers, chief ministers from BJP-ruled states, including Yogi Adityanath, and central BJP leaders campaigned in the state for 117 days.
Banerjee faced an onslaught from an aggressive BJP for several months since last December, with hordes of TMC leaders being weened away by the saffron camp.
The exodus created an atmosphere that painted the ruling party in Bengal as a sinking ship.
As the battle lines grew sharper and BJP’s offensive grew louder, Banerjee fought head on, campaigning in almost every seat.
While many of her MLAs faced anti-incumbency, her own popularity refused to die down on the ground.
“If she is so bad, incompetent as they say, why is it that the country’s Prime Minister has to come down three days a week to campaign against her… she must be very powerful then,” said Gautam Maity (35), a taxi driver in Kolkata, who hails from Contai in Midnapore.
The personal attacks on Mamata by BJP only brought out the best in her supporters who seemed determined to counter it.
With Congress, Left and others washed out in Bengal’s TMC wave, and other regional parties – from NCP to Samajwadi Party, RJD, JMM, Shiv Sena, extending moral support to her fight against BJP, Banerjee has clearly proved her might at the hustings above all other opposition forces.
The rallying of the opposition forces behind Banerjee had begun with Sharad Pawar, Akhilesh Yadav, Tejaswi Yadav and Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren campaigning for TMC during the polls.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi limited his campaigning in Bengal, and later ended it, even if it was on apparently for the Covid pandemic.
This too was read as conceding space to Banerjee in some way.
Leaving no doubt that she will lead the charge against BJP at the Centre, the Banerjee announced on Sunday that “the Bengal victory for TMC is the beginning of the downslide of the Modi-Shah led saffron supremacy” in the country.
Congress, that has been washed out in its remaining pockets of Malda and Murshidabad districts in Bengal with zero seats, and that also failed to win in Kerala, Assam or Puducherry is now unlikely to hold on to its number-one position as a party in the opposition camp.
Thus, with Bengal done, Mamata Banerjee is all set to start working on an opposition unity to challenge BJP at the Centre, as the main fulcrum of any movement geared towards 2024 Lok Sabha polls.