The Trinamool Congress’s move to abstain from the vice-presidential poll shows the party in poor light. The TMC has offered two reasons in its own defence — that it could not go with the NDA’s choice, Jagdeep Dhankhar, who, as West Bengal Governor, has had running battles with the TMC government in the state. And, that it was unwilling to support the Opposition’s candidate, senior Congress leader Margaret Alva, because it “had not been consulted” before the announcement of her candidature — TMC’s Rajya Sabha parliamentary party leader Derek O’Brien has said his party needed to give “a message to the Grand Old Party that they cannot take large opposition parties like the TMC for granted”. While the first reason is understandable given the Mamata Banerjee government’s confrontational relationship with Governor Dhankhar, the second makes the TMC look petulant and churlish. Point-scoring vis a vis a Congress that is in great decline in most states, including in West Bengal, is certainly not compelling enough to justify the boycott of an election to a key constitutional office, especially by a party that aspires to grow beyond the state that it rules to play a larger national role.
The Vice President of India presides over the Rajya Sabha, which is the House where the Opposition, heavily outnumbered by the ruling BJP in Lok Sabha, still has a significant presence and voice, to express its views and demand accountability. The TMC has 220 MLAs, 22 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 13 Rajya Sabha MPs from West Bengal. The party’s abstention from the V-P election would mean that its legislators would have no say in the election of the chairman of the Upper House. This amounts to abdicating space in an important and consequential process, at a time when parties of the Opposition, singly and together, must already contend with a fast shrinking foothold inside Parliament and outside it. Participation in an election, even if it is on the losing side, is in itself a political statement — the Opposition fielded Yashwant Sinha in the presidential election knowing fully well that the numbers favoured the NDA nominee, Droupadi Murmu. Similarly, Alva stands little chance of defeating Dhankhar. And yet, both contests matter, both will send signals that go beyond victory and defeat.
The TMC’s fractious relationship with the Congress stems from its national ambitions — an offshoot of the Congress, it seems to be positioning itself to claim the space, or pieces of it, that the Congress is vacating. However, the TMC must know that it needs to back its ambition with maturity in tactic and strategy. Its stance on the V-P election is a self-goal.