The opposition within

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Mamata, the face of the citizenship law protests in her state, has explained her decision as an act of protest against the “violence unleashed by Left and Congress” during the general strike on Wednesday.

One aspect of the aggressive federal pushback to the new citizenship Act, the proposed NRC and NPR has been the broad though tenuous consensus among the major opposition parties to oppose these. However, the contradictions within the Opposition have now come to the fore with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee deciding to stay away from a meeting convened by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Mamata, the face of the citizenship law protests in her state, has explained her decision as an act of protest against the “violence unleashed by Left and Congress” during the general strike on Wednesday. She had also declined their demand that the West Bengal assembly pass a resolution against the new citizenship Act.

This is not surprising since the compulsions of state politics are often at variance with the national narrative. Besides, the requirements of office too can force parties in government to disassociate with certain forms of protest, especially those of opposition groups, even if their interests converge at the national level. Both these tendencies have become visible in non-BJP ruled states that have seen major mobilisations against the CAA. In Kerala, the ruling CPM-led Left Front and the Congress-led opposition had come together initially to protest the CAA. Soon, the state Congress chief, Mullapally Ramachandran, claimed a joint struggle against the Centre was not a part of the Congress strategy in Kerala. Though the Kerala legislative assembly passed a unanimous resolution against the CAA, the CPM and Congress leaders have refused to coordinate their protests or even address the issue from common platforms. The moment of separation for non-BJP parties in West Bengal came when the Trinamool refused to allow the main opposition in the legislative assembly, the Left Front and Congress, to capture the anti-BJP space. CM Mamata also accused them of trying to damage the state’s economy by resorting to strikes.

The challenge for the national opposition would be to manage the state-level contradictions as it tries to build a united front against the Centre, a task it failed at during the general election. Political parties, especially regional outfits, tend to privilege their local electoral interests over larger ideological concerns, which limits the prospect of any collective action at the national level. The absence of opposition unity may have a limited impact in the case of anti-CAA protests since much of it has been mobilisations of students and young people.