TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s aggressive push for a collective of regional parties that could take the fight to the BJP, eclipsing the Congress, is finding an echo among some of the regional parties. A section of the Congress, which is wary of the leadership abilities of Rahul Gandhi, too is watching the events unfold with great interest.
A day after Banerjee took a swipe at Rahul Gandhi saying “you can’t be abroad most of the time” and “there’s no UPA now”, political strategist Prashant Kishor, who manages TMC’s electoral forays, said the Congress’s leadership of the Opposition is not the “divine right of an individual, especially when the party has lost more than 90 per cent elections in last 10 years”. Let Opposition leadership, he said, be decided “democratically”.
The Congress hit back at Banerjee, reminding her of her association with the BJP during the Vajpayee era, and claimed she was going the BJP way by poaching MLAs and breaking parties. The Trinamool Congress, on its part, asked Congress to wake up and “smell the coffee” because the party is crumbling in many states.
Banerjee, sources said, is working to a plan. Her party has already amended its constitution to accommodate leaders from other states. Sources said the TMC could now rename itself because Trinamool is a purely Bengali expression. The TMC, sources said, could approach the Election Commission.
And, she is learnt to have told NCP chief Sharad Pawar during their meeting in Mumbai Wednesday that regional parties cannot simply sit on the sidelines and watch the Congress-BJP duel in 200-odd seats. Her argument being that the Congress is on a weak wicket, and the BJP gets a head start in these 200-odd seats in the Hindi heartland. An alternative of regional forces, hence, should be presented to the people. Banerjee was very upset with the fact that the Congress fought against her by aligning itself with the Left in the recently held Assembly elections in West Bengal.
Sources said Banerjee even referred to and appreciated Pawar’s remark that the Congress is like the zamindars of Uttar Pradesh who continue to think they are landlords and have the power to rule, but are in effect powerless because their land holdings have shrunk.
Banerjee’s meeting with Pawar was more about beginning the groundwork for bringing regional forces together. She believes the Congress can no more automatically be the anti-BJP fulcrum. Kishor’s tweet Thursday perhaps reflected her views. “The IDEA and SPACE that Congress represents is vital for a strong opposition. But Congress’ leadership is not the DIVINE RIGHT of an individual especially, when the party has lost more than 90% elections in the last 10 years. Let opposition leadership be decided Democratically,” he said.
The IDEA and SPACE that #Congress represents is vital for a strong opposition. But Congress’ leadership is not the DIVINE RIGHT of an individual especially, when the party has lost more than 90% elections in last 10 years.
Let opposition leadership be decided Democratically.
— Prashant Kishor (@PrashantKishor) December 2, 2021
Kishor, incidentally, wanted to join the Congress some months ago. He even had a couple of meetings with the Gandhis. Sources in the Congress said his demands were “too much” and could not be accommodated. Besides, there was resistance from a section of the senior leadership. “He wanted complete charge of strategy-making and election campaign. He even wanted a role in candidate selection. He wanted to be a member of the Congress Central Election Committee,” a leader said.
With Banerjee showing the way, her party launched a broadside against the Congress. Taking forward Banerjee’s assertion that the UPA is non-existent, TMC Rajya Sabha floor leader Derek O’Brien told reporters that the UPA was set up for governance in 2004 and continued till 2014. “For seven years, there has been no UPA because there is no governance. The governance is being done by another political party,” he said.
O’Brien said the TMC will not go to states where there are strong regional parties which can keep the BJP at bay. “We are not going to open a Trinamool unit in Tamil Nadu. The DMK is there, and it is fighting well. We don’t want to set up a unit in Maharashtra now. I am talking about now. We are not fighting the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Telangana, Andhra Pradesh… in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, there is a fight between two parties. So we are careful. If we see a weak Opposition against the BJP, then we will go in… Tripura is an example.”
He asked the Congress to wake up and “smell the coffee”. Asked about remarks of some Congress leaders that the TMC was trying to weaken the Congress under pressure from investigating agencies, he said “your Meghalaya MLAs left and joined Trinamool Congress. Your Goa MLAs out of the 12-13 ditched you… gone. Your Madhya Pradesh government… we all know what happened. If somebody doesn’t want to smell the coffee… with all humility I say, the facts are there… smell the coffee… We (TMC) have the credentials, credibility and, like in cricket, you have to have the current form. Trinamool has the current form”.
The Congress hit back, reminding the TMC that Banerjee was a minister in the Vajpayee government. “In 2001, she quit the NDA saying ‘I don’t like the NDA and BJP anymore’. She joined hands with the Congress towards the end of 2001. And she fought Assembly elections with the Congress. In 2003, she rejoined the NDA and became a minister again in the Vajpayee government. She had even said BJP is her natural ally. She fought the 2004 Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the BJP,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala told a press conference.
“In 2008, she quit the NDA again. In 2009, she joined the UPA and became a minister. In 2012, she quit the UPA. There is a difference between political opportunism and the fight for principles. You were in NDA and UPA many times and now you are giving us sermons on principles. It is inappropriate. She should reflect,” he said.
“Isn’t Mamataji doing what Modiji is doing? Modiji is buying MLAs, Mamataji also does the same. Modiji is breaking parties, Mamataji is also doing the same… Has the fascist thinking now become her inspiration as well? She should introspect on whether her priority is to fight the BJP or the Congress,” he said.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said: “To oppose and defeat the BJP, a broad-based understanding and cooperation among secular, progressive and democratic political parties on people’s issues is the need of the hour. That will connect with people’s expectations. Congress, as the principal national Opposition party, remains a central pillar for a collective national effort.”
Meanwhile, the CPM said the efforts of neither the TMC nor the Congress to lead a united Opposition against the BJP will succeed. An article in the latest edition of CPM mouthpiece People’s Democracy stated that “the efforts of Mamata Banerjee and the TMC to exercise leadership of a united Opposition is not going to fructify, just as the desire of the Congress to play that leading role came to naught”.
“The farmers’ struggle has shown what a sustained united struggle can achieve. The Opposition parties should draw the appropriate lesson. No omnibus unity at the all-India level with a ‘leader’ is going to work. The broadest unity can be forged through the united actions of different sections of the working people,” it said.
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