Updated: June 17, 2022 8:18:44 am
“What is UPA? There is no UPA”: Mamata Banerjee, December 1, 2021.
The three-time chief minister’s assertion was projected as a sign of her determination to open a new chapter in Opposition politics, with her party, the Trinamool Congress, as the fulcrum, replacing a listless Congress.
On Wednesday, ahead of the joint meeting convened by her on the Presidential poll, as Banerjee warmly received Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh and Randeep Surjewala at the entrance of the meeting venue, the moment framed the distance travelled by the TMC in the last seven months.
Humbled by a poor show in the Goa assembly polls, desertion of inductees like Haryana leader Ashok Tanwar within days of joining, and trouble in its home turf West Bengal on many fronts, ranging from political violence and an alleged scam in teacher recruitment, the TMC appears to have reworked its strategy.
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The joint meeting, which was attended by 17 Opposition parties despite noises made by the Congress, Left parties and the DMK over Banerjee’s “unilateral initiative”, was replete with signs that the TMC has realised its limitations, and the need to adopt a more accommodating approach — with a little nudge from Sharad Pawar.
In fact, conscious attempts were made to avoid giving an impression that it was a ‘Mamata show’. The NCP supremo, who played a major role in getting the TMC to dial down its aggression, which was threatening to erase even the fuzzy outlines of unity in the Opposition camp, presided over the meeting.
Apart from the Congress, Pawar, who is the force binding together the unlikely Sena-NCP-Congress coalition in Maharashtra, also managed to bring the Left parties, which continues to have bitter equations with the TMC, on board for her proposal to “sit together” and pick “the true custodian of our Constitution”.
In her speech at the meeting, Banerjee even attacked the BJP government over the ED grilling of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, likening it with the agency’s action against her own nephew and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee. That’s a far cry from last winter, when she would flare up even at the slightest mention of the Grand Old Party.
Also, instead of sulking over TMC’s attempt to take the pole position, by stepping back a little, the Congress has also offered Banerjee the required space to leverage her strengths by reaching out to parties like the TRS, YSRCP, BJD, BSP and SP, which would be more receptive to ideas floated by her than the Sonia Gandhi-led party.
The Shiv Sena, which deputed two leaders to Wednesday’s meeting, also appears to be enthused with the new playbook scripted by Banerjee and Pawar. The party had in December criticised the TMC, saying no Opposition front is possible without the Congress.
The meeting had its share of hitches though. While political activist Sudheendra Kulkarni read out a one-line resolution adopted at the meeting after it ended, the TMC is learnt to have prepared a three-page draft. But it was whittled down after many participants pointed out that the draft should have been circulated well in advance.
With the next meeting of the Opposition camp scheduled for next week, all eyes are on Pawar, who will take the lead in hosting it after having turned down the unanimous request by leaders to be the face against the NDA’s candidate.
As things stand, the NDA already has over 48 per cent of the vote share in the electoral college for choosing the new President, which seems to be the primary reason behind the reluctance of the Maratha strongman, who tweeted last night saying, “I am happy to continue my service for the well-being of the common man”.
Also, among NC’s Farooq Abdullah and former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the two alternative names floated at the meeting, the latter appears to have more acceptance, even among those who stayed away for tactical reasons.
Leader of an Opposition party, which skipped the meeting despite being invited, said his party was likely to push for the candidature of Gopal Krishna Gandhi.
“He may have been critical of the government, but Gopal Krishna Gandhi is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. The PM holds the Mahatma in high regard. There is no better time to field him than the 75th year of India’s Independence,” the leader said.
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