Mamata Banerjee emerges Opposition’s toughest leader due to Kolkata stand-off, EC campaign action: Long caricatured for her capricious nature, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee looks set to be the glue that will bind the Opposition together ahead of counting day on May 23 and the politics thereafter. Tuesday night saw an outbreak of wanton violence in Kolkata after BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow which ended up beheading the bust of Bengal and Indian modernity icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, versions vary on who did the damage, may have crystallised opposition to the BJP in the state. But the Election Commission’s decision to end the campaign on Thursday 10 pm, a full 20 hours ahead of schedule, looks to have expanded Mamata Banerjee’s aura among the opposition.

Opposition leaders have been profuse in praising Banerjee for being the one regional leader who has not flinched in standing up to the BJP. People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti said at last someone to take on the BJP while National Conference chief Omar Abdullah said Banerjee will sweep Bengal on May 23. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu criticised the BJP for the violence in Bengal. The Uttar Pradesh mahagathbandhan leaders Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav also supported Mamata Banerjee. Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayawati slammed the Election Commission for allowing PM Narendra Modi’s rallies in Mathurapur and Dum Dum and ensuring the end of the campaign came into force at 10 pm on Thursday. Normally, Lok Sabha and Assembly poll campaigns end at 6 pm two days before the day of polling. Social media was also acutely aware of which side was getting the benefit.

With the Congress calling a meeting of the Opposition on counting day and hinting that it was open to not leading the opposition, the permutations and combinations of who will fit into what part of the puzzle remains to be seen but the Congress first move is more an attempt to forge opposition unity than to say who will play boss.

The attempts to introduce new divides in the Opposition had begun the day Telangana CM K. Chandrasekhar Rao met DMK chief MK Stalin. Tamil Nadu BJP chief Tamilisai Soundararajan was quick to announce that Stalin had sent feelers to the BJP. Stalin, one of Rahul Gandhi’s staunchest supporters for PM, shot back an angry statement decrying the lies from the TN BJP chief. Similarly, another tweet did the rounds on Wednesday that Mayawati would be back with the NDA after the elections are over.

Both sides are playing footsie coalition games. The BJP itself put out on twitter that Vajpayee had successfully run a coalition government and the party can do that again under Modi. An anonymous unclaimed survey did the rounds yesterday saying the BJP (not the NDA) would secure more than 300 seats. How that data came about nobody knows since the EC has banned exit polls until the last day of voting. But the Kolkata violence and the EC action after it has left Mamata Banerjee in an advantageous position before counting day.

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