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Derek O’Brien interview | ‘Message for Congress: Do not take TMC for granted; view us as equal partners’

Senior TMC leader and the party's Rajya Sabha leader, Derek O'Brien, tells The Indian Express why and how the decision to abstain from voting in Vice-Presidential polls came about. And also what next for the party, and the Opposition.

Derek O'Brien

A day after the NDA’s candidate in Presidential elections, Droupadi Murmu, won the contest handsomely against the Opposition’s Yashwant Sinha, and also a day after the Trinamool Congress announced its decision to abstain in the upcoming Vice President’s election, senior TMC leader and the party’s Rajya Sabha leader, Derek O’Brien, tells The Indian Express why and how that decision came about. And also what next for the party, and the Opposition. Excerpts from the interview:

What was the reason behind TMC’s decision to abstain in Vice President polls? Is there anything more to it than meets the eye?

There was no question of voting for the BJP’s Vice Presidential candidate. That is an ideological impossibility. Also, (NDA candidate) Jagdeep Dhankhar’s role as West Bengal Governor is a travesty to the Constitution. So we had two options: either abstain, or to support a candidate whose name was conveyed to us 15 minutes before a press conference in Delhi.

We have the highest regard for (Opposition’s candidate) Margaret Alva, and we respect her legacy. However, we have opposed the manner and the method in which the candidate was decided.

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As Governor, Jadgeep Dhankhar clashed with the state government on many issues. Wasn’t the Vice President polls a good opportunity to hit out at the BJP-led government and its choice?

The Vice President election is not about individuals. We are ideologically opposed to the bigoted and divisive policies of the BJP government. TMC’s strident opposition to BJP doesn’t require any further certification. However, there is another perspective, where we needed to give a message to the Grand Old Party (Congress) that they cannot take large opposition parties like TMC for granted.

View us as equal partners and we will smoothly work together to expose BJP on matters where they have failed this country. The BJP has botched up [on many fronts, leading to issues] like unemployment, price-rise, federal structure, media freedom, credibility of institutions, and more.

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The TMC will keep raising people’s issues in both Houses in collaboration with opposition parties.

Much is said about Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with Jagdeep Dhankhar and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma in Darjeeling. Some Opposition leaders say there was a Darjeeling part.

The Governor had tea and biscuits with the Chief Minister. The CM of a neighbouring state was present. No reason whatsoever for a storm in a teacup.

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Congress and CPI(M) leaders claim Sonia Gandhi had spoken to Banerjee before announcing Margaret Alva’s candidature. It is said that NCP chief Sharad Pawar, too, was in touch with Banerjee. They question TMC’s claim that it was not consulted.

We stand by what we [have] said. You can’t spring a name upon us at 10 minutes’ notice. The Grand Old Party must introspect. We are the second largest opposition party in Parliament, and I’m sure we will grow bigger after 2024 elections.

I must point out there are two kinds of relationships between “like-minded” parties who oppose BJP’s ideology. The first kind is where the GOP works with its allies. The DMK is an electoral ally in Tamil Nadu; NCP and Shiv Sena, till a few days ago, ran a government with them in Maharashtra. The RJD and CPI(M) are also electoral allies. The TMC is not an electoral ally (of Congress). Yes, we are a like-minded party, but not an electoral ally. The GOP and the Left — with tacit support of BJP on the ground — officially came together to fight us in 2021 West Bengal elections.

Yes, we need to remove this bigoted (Narendra) Modi-(Amit) Shah government, but the message for the GOP is direct and non-confrontational: Do not take us for granted; view us as an equal partner. There is a need to change the status quo in Delhi.

The TMC has been a strong votary of Opposition unity. How will this decision affect that?

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Yes, we are a strong votary of Opposition unity. Mamata Banerjee made every effort for Opposition unity in the Presidential election. Let us be optimistic and find common issues. Like I mentioned above, there are key issues which need to be highlighted, (such as) how there is an economic blockade against Opposition states, how agencies like ED and CBI are being used for political vendetta.

We must unanimously raise these issues. There are no battle lines between the Opposition (parties).

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The decision to field Yashwant Sinha had splintered the Opposition. It became clear yesterday that there was massive cross-voting, too. Does TMC feel Sinha was perhaps not the best candidate?

The Presidential elections are now a closed chapter. Kudos to Yashwant Sinha-ji for a battle fought with energy, conviction and grace.

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With 36% votes, Sinha-ji is the Opposition candidate with the third highest percentage of votes in Presidential election history. The only two other Opposition candidates who got a higher percentage of votes were Koka Subba Rao in 1967 (43%) and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy in 1969 (49%). Let’s leave it at that.

There is talk, on and off, about an anti-BJP front. Is such a front possible without the Congress, the main opposition party, leading it?

Parties strong in different regions have to take BJP head on (in 2024)…. We will win big in Bengal and fight in a half-a-dozen states, including UP, Assam and Meghalaya. DMK will win big in Tamil Nadu. TRS will triumph in Telangana. Samajwadi Party will, along with us, make an impression in Uttar Pradesh, AAP need to replicate their winning performance in Delhi and Punjab. The Shiv Sena and NCP along with the Grand Old Party need to further strengthen themselves in Maharashtra.

This is the way the Opposition has to move ahead. Most importantly, the Grand Old Party needs to win its own states. Gujarat elections, Rajasthan elections, Himachal elections are coming up. The Grand Old Party needs to win these three states one on one.

How do you foresee Mr Dhankar’s tenure as Chairman of Rajya Sabha?

Khela Hobe (it’s game on).

First published on: 22-07-2022 at 08:36:04 pm
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