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Ever since Mamata Banerjee registered that historic victory in the state Assembly elections in 2021, her efforts to unite the Opposition on at least three occasions have not turned out to be an easy task. In March 2021, Mamata had written to Opposition honchos, urging them to unite against the BJP’s alleged ‘assaults’ on democracy and the Constitution.

Again in July 2021, Mamata’s visit to Delhi stoked speculations over the fact if she was actually pitching herself as the PM candidate for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. She was, however, extremely cautious and categorically ruled out her (prime ministerial) ambitions. When asked, she reiterated that she was only a “simple worker”.

She, however, was keen to drive home the message that her efforts were to unite Opposition forces at least for talks so that there could be a consensus among parties to chalk out a concrete plan to defeat the Narendra Modi-led BJP. However, all that is past now. Her recent bid to bring the Opposition camp into a huddle over the crucial presidential polls is also facing rough weather.

After NCP chief Sharad Pawar and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah declined the offer to be the joint Opposition candidate, the third jolt came in the form of Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Governor of West Bengal, who also refused the offer. The process to elect a presidential candidate began on June 15 with the last date for filing of nominations being June 29. The polls are scheduled to be held on July 18.

The NCP veteran’s reluctance pulled the plug on the Opposition camp’s zeal and NCP insiders said that Pawar being a “people’s man” won’t “restrict himself to Rashtrapati Bhavan”. “…don’t think he is keen on it (contesting the election). Saheb (Pawar) is a people’s man who loves meeting people. He will not restrict himself to Rashtrapati Bhavan,” the party sources said.

In a quick move, Farooq Abdullah’s name was circulated. However, unwilling to contest, he said, “I believe that J&K is passing through a critical juncture and my efforts are required to help navigate these uncertain times. Therefore, I would like to respectfully withdraw my name from consideration and I look forward to supporting the joint opposition consensus candidate.”

Meanwhile, according to news reports on Monday, BSP supremo Mayawati’s name was suggested by some Congress leaders in Rajasthan who backed their theory by saying that Mayawati, the face of Dalit politics in the country, would be a better choice as the Dalits, in the larger context in the country, have faith in the Congress and in the bigger picture, this would put the Grand Old Party in a better frame of things.

However, there was more bad news for the Opposition camp on Monday when Gopalkrishna Gandhi too declined the offer. The former civil servant said the Opposition needs a candidate who will generate a national consensus and ensure unity. “I am most grateful to them (the Opposition),” Gandhi said.

The Opposition’s fight looks stunted before it even could begin and with the date for filing the nomination hardly a week away, it is time they zero in on a candidate at least to reach a stage where an election for the top post takes place… or else with the kind of bonhomie the Opposition parties are showing in terms of uniting, with the Lok Sabha elections just two years away, one wonders whether they would be able to put up a unified fight at all...!

It may be noted that while Leaders of Congress, Samajwadi Party, NCP, DMK, RJD and the Left parties attended the meeting called by Mamata, AAP, TRS and BJD skipped it!

Tuesday was, however, agog with breaking news coming in that Yashwant Sinha is being considered as the Opposition’s joint candidate. On Tuesday, he announced that he would be stepping aside from party work for the larger national cause of Opposition unity. The development comes a day after the TMC chief proposed his name. “I am grateful to Mamataji for the honour and prestige she bestowed on me in the TMC. Now, time has come when for a larger national cause I must step aside from the party to work for greater opposition unity. I am sure she approves of the step,” Sinha tweeted.

Meanwhile, after much deliberation and anxiety several major Opposition parties, including the Congress, the NCP and the TMC, on Tuesday picked former Union minister Yashwant Sinha as their candidate for the July 18 presidential polls.

Opposition leaders, who gathered at the Parliament annexe for the meeting convened by NCP chief Sharad Pawar to decide on a common candidate for the much-discussed presidential election, unanimously agreed on Sinha’s name. This, thus… brings to rest the long-drawn heartburn reflux over the Opposition unity factor as the parties have finally shown some “connect” or else it would have been a cakewalk for the NDA.


ROBIN ROY The writer is Senior Associate Editor, Free Press Journal, Mumbai and former Managing Editor, First India

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