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Mamata likely to meet Stalin today, sparks talk of TMC’s renewed national push

Trinamool chief will fly to Chennai to attend the birthday celebrations of West Bengal Governor La Ganesan’s elder brother; Opposition says she is “fleeing from reality”.

Sources said Banerjee was likely to visit Stalin soon after reaching the Tamil Nadu capital. (Express archives)

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is likely to meet her Tamil Nadu counterpart MK Stalin in Chennai on Wednesday, sources in the state government said on Tuesday. Banerjee will fly to Chennai to attend the birthday function of West Bengal Governor La Ganesan’s elder brother on Thursday. Sources said Banerjee was likely to visit Stalin soon after reaching the Tamil Nadu capital.

With this move, political observers said, Mamata is making a play for the role of the face of the Opposition, out to stitch together an alliance of regional parties against the BJP-led government at the Centre. The scheduled visit drew flak from the Opposition that criticised Banerjee’s plan to attend the family programme of a “temporary” governor on taxpayers’ money.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) investigations into various scams and subsequent arrests of senior party leaders dealt a major blow to the Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) prospects in national politics. The party leadership is trying to set its house in order first before taking the challenge to the BJP in other states.

Till December last year, Banerjee made attempts to emerge as the Opposition’s pivot against the BJP at the national level. Her credentials received a boost in May 2021 following her re-election as West Bengal CM for the third straight term. After that, she crisscrossed the country in a bid to position herself as the lead Opposition player against the BJP dispensation. Banerjee met a slew of Opposition leaders — from then Congress president Sonia Gandhi to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar — to establish her role in stitching up an overarching Opposition alliance against the BJP. Banerjee’s efforts were not restricted to only visiting Opposition leaders as her party continued to expand its footprint across the country by inducting leaders from various parties, especially the Congress.

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With Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee playing a key role in the TMC’s expansion plan, the party sought to strengthen its organisation in several northeastern states such as Tripura, Meghalaya, and Assam, not to mention the foray into electoral politics in Goa. The party also extended support to Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls earlier this year.

But following an electoral debacle in Goa and the toppling of the Uddhav Thackeray-led government in Maharashtra, the TMC’s national plans came to a shuddering halt.

But Banerjee has not given up on her hopes of shaping an anti-BJP front ahead of the general elections in 2024. At a TMC rally in September, she claimed that she would join hands with other Opposition and regional leaders to defeat the BJP in 2024. “All Opposition parties will join hands to defeat the BJP. All of us will be on one side and the BJP on the other. The BJP’s arrogance of 300 seats will be its nemesis. There will be ‘Khela Hobe’ in 2024,” she said.

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Sources in the TMC said that with the Congress perceived to be gaining momentum in the country through its “Bharat Jodo Yatra”, TMC is once again making attempts to reach out to regional parties. “The leadership never lost sight of its objective for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. A lot of things took place in the meantime that required the party’s attention. Once they are settled, the party will surely resume its national plans,” said a senior TMC leader who did not wish to be named.

TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh attributed the lack of the party’s activities nationally to the festive season. “Once this festive season is over, the leadership will resume its work for national politics. Our national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee is also back from the US after eye surgery. Once he is fully available, the party will give full thrust to execute our party plans,” said Ghosh.

Opposition criticises CM

The BJP, meanwhile, took a jibe at Banerjee for once again reaching out to other parties. “Earlier too, she tried to forge an alliance of Opposition parties against the BJP. But her plans fell flat as the BJP emerged victorious in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and increased its seats. This time also, Banerjee will fail in her effort to bring opposition parties together,” said state BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya.

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Senior BJP leader Rahul Sinha described the proposed meeting between Banerjee and Stalin as an “absolutely meaningless” one. He added, “She went to Goa, Tripura and Assam and she could nothing anywhere. The point is that the TMC has no relevance outside Bengal. She can roam around the country, but that will not yield any result.” Banerjee, he said, must think about her party’s business in Bengal before holding meetings with Stalin and others.

State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury described Banerjee’s visit as “nothing but an attempt to restore her lost credentials in Indian politics”. He said, “I see no reason why Banerjee is going to Chennai to attend the birthday party of one of the family members of the governor. I think this is a ploy to develop a good relationship with the Centre so that West Bengal does not get another Jagdeep Dhankhar as its governor.”

On the proposed meeting between Banerjee and Stalin, who is also the president of Congress ally DMK, Chowdhury said, “Didi (how Banerjee is popularly referred to) knows that she has lost her credibility in national politics. She had held several such meetings with many leaders earlier but those had failed miserably. This is the reason she planned this so-called meeting with Stalin. I see this as her attempt to try to restore her lost relevance in Indian politics.”

CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty called Banerjee’s trip an “excuse” to leave Bengal at a time when people are on the streets demanding jobs. “I don’t see any logic behind a chief minister visiting the family programme of the governor on taxpayers’ money. She is actually escaping the state when job aspirants are holding demonstrations demanding employment. She is not at all bothered about them and is fleeing from reality.”

— With PTI inputs

First published on: 01-11-2022 at 20:26 IST
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