A day after Bengal Assembly polls verdict, plans are afoot to crown Mamata Banerjee as the UPA chairperson or its convenor—in other words, the face of the non-BJP-non-NDA political force. At present, Sonia Gandhi is chairperson of the UPA. The move, at a nascent stage, interestingly, has the blessings of both the official Congress party and the group of dissenters aka G-23 who in August 2020 had questioned Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s leadership style.
Behind the scene, telephonic conversations are taking place and an emissary, who had brought G-23 to Sonia Gandhi’s residence in December 2020, is said to be playing an active role in convincing Mamata Banerjee. The emissary had reportedly played a role in drafting Mamata in the Indian Youth Congress during the Sanjay Gandhi era.
The game-plan is multidimensional. It envisages the continuation of the political leadership of the Congress with the Gandhis. In more specific terms, Rahul Gandhi in exchange of 10, Janpath taking a lead in inviting Mamata Banerjee to steer UPA.
The Congress has been in introspection mode for a while without a formal chintan shivar, an AICC session or a workers’ meet weighing various options and scenarios. Bengal has become the third state after Delhi [both 2015 and 2020] and Andhra Pradesh  where the party has scored a zero in Assembly election.
The dissidents have understood the futility of throwing a leadership challenge simply because such a course is not beneficial in electoral politics. The importance of Rahul Gandhi or a member of Nehru-Gandhi family has been realized not purely in terms of keeping the party united but because of Rahul-Sonia’s ability to raise the right questions on matters of national importance such as public health, security, foreign policy and economy. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s deep association with the Gandhis also has had some sobering impact on G-23 leaders as some hold the good doctor in highest esteem. The overall assessment is that the BJP is looking vulnerable [in the context of handling of the COVID-19 second wave and the Bengal verdict]. Therefore, a concerted attempt should be made to dislodge the party in 2024.
The Congress insiders feel there will be a bid to install Rahul as the AICC chief if ‘Plan Mamata for UPA’ gets a nod from Sonia Gandhi. While Rahul Gandhi would focus more on Parliament and organizational matters, Priyanka Gandhi would step up as a campaigner and go-to person for party allies.
The UPA has been dormant since 2014. The UPA or the United Progressive Alliance had come into existence when a Congress-led alliance was forged in 2004. This rainbow coalition continued till Manmohan Singh got voted out in May 2014. The enormity of defeat was such that the UPA, as it had existed during 2004-2014, was not revived. Nor did it hold periodic deliberations. The non-NDA parties, however, did come together often in the state assembly polls of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Bengal etc. Historically, the Congress has had alliance partners in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Jammu and Kashmir.
On May 20, 2019, three days before the Lok Sabha verdict, DMK leader M.K. Stalin had denied media reports that Sonia Gandhi had convened a meeting of the UPA on May 23, the day votes in the Lok Sabha elections were to be counted. “Who said there is an opposition parties’ meeting on the 23rd? The meeting will be useful only for election results,” Stalin had told reporters reinforcing a thought that the UPA’s logic and mandate was to form a government rather than to act as an umbrella for opposition parties.
Clearly, the idea of an umbrella of opposition parties is being revived. But Sharad Pawar, who made many bids to position himself either as the UPA chairperson or convenor, is nowhere in the picture.
The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.