Amid the continuing unravelling of the Congress party, Mamata Banerjee seems to be rushing in to stake her party Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s claim to the lead Opposition player’s space being vacated by the Congress.
From cold-shouldering Sonia Gandhi by refraining from meeting her during her recent visit to the national capital to taking a blistering swipe at Rahul Gandhi in Mumbai yesterday, the Trinamool supremo has been seeking to emerge as the Opposition’s pivot against the BJP at the national level.
Distancing her party from the Congress, Banerjee has been reaching out to other Opposition parties in a move to pitchfork the TMC into the centrestage of the national Opposition politics.
After trouncing the BJP and getting re-elected as Chief Minister of West Bengal for the third consecutive time in May this year, Banerjee has been criss-crossing the country, meeting a slew of Opposition leaders in a bid to establish her leadership in stitching up an overarching Opposition alliance against the BJP-led NDA government.
Unlike her earlier such meetings, Banerjee’s efforts this time are not restricted to only visiting Opposition leaders, as her party continues to expand its footprints across the country by inducting leaders from various parties – especially the Congress.
Following her party’s landslide victory in the Bengal Assembly polls, Banerjee had visited the national capital in July. She had then met Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her residence where her son and ex-Congress chief Rahul Gandhi was also present. In August, Banerjee had also attended a virtual meeting of Opposition leaders that was convened by the Congress president. In that meeting, she had proposed that the Opposition leaders should keep their personal agendas aside, even as she had appealed to all the Opposition parties to unite against the BJP.
However, after shedding the tag of a “non-MLA” CM by winning the Bhabanipur Assembly bypoll on October 3, Banerjee has become increasingly more confident and ambitious, adopting an aggressive approach.
As part of the TMC’s national expansion plans, Banerjee visited Goa on October 28 to kickstart its election campaign in the coastal state. To make inroads into Goa politics, the TMC got hold of its former CM and Congress leader Luizinho Faleiro, who was subsequently appointed as its national vice-president. He was recently nominated as TMC Rajya Sabha member.
During her visit to Goa, tennis star Leander Paes and actor Nafisa Ali were inducted into the Trinamool’s fold there.
In the BJP-ruled Goa bound for the Assembly poll, where the Congress is the main Opposition party, the TMC also managed to get Goa Forward Party (GFP) working president Kiran Kandolkar – who was number two in his party after its chief Vijai Sardesai – along with 40 other GFP functionaries, including sarpanches of five villages from the Assembly constituencies of Tivim and Aldona in North Goa.
On October 25, the TMC inducted two senior Congress leaders of Uttar Pradesh ,
Rajeshpati Tripathi, an ex-MLC, and Laliteshpati Tripathi, a former UP Congress vice-president and an ex-MLA. Rajeshpati and Laliteshpati are, respectively, the grandson and the great-grandson of late UP Congress stalwart and ex-CM Kamalapati Tripathi.
With Banerjee’s nephew and party national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee playing a key role in the TMC’s expansion plan, the party has over the past few months sought to strengthen its organisation in several Northeastern states such as Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam.
It has also roped in a number of high-profile leaders in recent months, including Sushmita Dev from the Congress and ex-Union minister Babul Supriyo from the BJP.
During Banerjee’s visit to Delhi last month, the TMC clinched the induction of Congress leaders Kirti Azad and Ashok Tanwar along with former JD(U) MP Pavan Varma.
She had then said she was open to extending help to Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.
During her visit to Delhi last month, however, Banerjee was cold to the Congress, deciding against meeting Gandhis, She had then met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to invite him to inaugurate her government’s flagship investment conclave, Bengal Global Business Summit (BGBS), scheduled for April next year.
The Congress recently suffered another blow at the hands of the TMC, with Meghalaya witnessing a political upheaval. Former CM Mukul Sangma and 11 other Congress MLAs switched to the TMC, making it the principal Opposition party in the state.
Banerjee’s current visit to Mumbai, which has been making waves, clearly seems to be part of the same strategy. After meeting NCP chief Sharad Pawar yesterday, she again gunned for the Congress dismissing the existence of the erstwhile Congress-led UPA, thereby indicating the need for the emergence of an alternative Opposition grouping against the BJP dispensation. The TMC chief also met Shiv Sena leaders, Aaditya Thackeray and Sanjay Raut, even as she called for the Opposition unity against the BJP.
Showcasing her national ambition in Mumbai, Banerjee also held an interaction session with civil society members, with lyricist Javed Akhtar, social activist Medha Patkar, director Mahesh Bhatt, and actors like Swara Bhaskar and Richa Chadha, and stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui attending it among others.
Reacting to Banerjee’s recent visits to various states, West Bengal BJP president Sukanta Majumdar said, “She is free to travel across the country. It is her personal ambition to forge an Opposition unity against the BJP. We have no issues with that as it is her freedom of choice. But her plans will fall flat as her party has no base outside West Bengal. Even other regional parties also have no pan-India presence. So these parties have no significance when it comes to national politics.”
As the winter session of Parliament got underway this week, the Trinamul decided to stay away from the Congress-held meetings of the Opposition parties.
All these moves have clearly been calibrated as part of the TMC’s plan to position itself as an alternative to the Congress and to project Banerjee as a key leader of the Opposition alliance, who could be a “credible challenger” to PM Modi-led BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
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