NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s remarks on his Trinamool Congress (TMC) counterpart and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee’s “willingness” to bury the hatchet and join a larger Opposition platform involving the Congress seems to have evoked a guarded but positive response from the TMC camp barring some discordant notes.
On September 21, Pawar said Mamata is ready to sink her differences with the Congress in the national interests and come together to form an Opposition alliance against the ruling BJP in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Pawar’s statement came ahead of the INLD’s mega Fatehabad rally that the Om Prakash Chautala-led party is holding on September 25 on the birth anniversary of former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal as a show of strength, which it has also projected as the beginning of the formation of a third front that would eventually take on the BJP in the 2014 general elections. The INLD has also invited a slew of top Opposition leaders such as Pawar, Bihar CM and JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar and others, including from the TMC and the CPI(M), from across the country.
Close on the heels of Pawar’s remarks, senior TMC MP Sougata Roy welcomed his statement, saying “It is a nice statement. Sharad Pawar is a very senior leader of the country, and I do not think he has made the remarks without consulting our party chief Mamata Banerjee.”
Subsequently, TMC Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien however criticised Pawar’s statement, saying that it was out of line. “No one asked him (Pawar) to say all this. Before the Chautala rally, he is trying to gain his importance,” O’Brien alleged.
A senior TMC leader then said, “Whatever stance the party takes (on Pawar’s statement) will be explained by Mamata Banerjee, Abhishek Banerjee or the party’s official spokesperson. That is the standing instruction within the party.”
When The Indian Express asked TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh for the party’s reaction on Pawar’s remarks, he said, “We have never said that we want to fight the BJP without the Congress. We have only said that the Congress should also play their role. In India, at least 150 Lok Sabha seats are there where only Congress can take on the BJP. If Congress does not play its role, then BJP will get advantage in those 150 seats. Our chairperson Mamata Banerjee has also said that there should be some coordination between the Opposition parties. There should be a Coordination Committee of the Opposition parties, which should hold meetings regularly to determine their roadmap.”
CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty flayed the TMC on the issue of the Opposition unity, charging that “Everybody knows the role of Mamata Banerjee in recent times as to how she helped BJP during the presidential and vice-presidential elections. So, she does not have any credibility on this score.”
The uneasy relationship between the TMC and the Congress had hit a new low during the Bengal Assembly polls last year, which was swept by the former. Mamata had then charged the Congress and Left alliance of allegedly helping the BJP against her party. Following her spectacular victory, the TMC repeatedly hailed her as the most “popular and accepted Opposition face” to take on the BJP, while dismissing the Congress as a “party in deep freeze”. “The country needs a coalition of Opposition forces, which are now looking up to Mamata Banerjee (for leadership),” the party mouthpiece “Jago Bangla” had then claimed.
However, in a dramatic change of situation, the TMC has been on the defensive for the past few months, with its senior leaders having been under a cloud of various scams. Two heavyweight party leaders, Partha Chatterjee and Anubrata Mondal, have been arrested by central agencies over their alleged involvement in the school jobs scam and the cattle smuggling case, respectively. About 50 crore rupees in cash was recovered from a close Partha aide Arpita Mukherjee’s house in Kolkata. Two other top TMC leaders Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew, and Moloy Ghatak have also been questioned by various agencies. “After a string of such cases and the point that Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has been gaining traction, we are not in a position to directly challenge the Congress leadership now, “ said a senior TMC leader.
The NCP’s chief spokesperson Mahesh Tapase, when asked about some TMC leaders’ critical remarks on Pawar’s statement, said that Pawar and the NCP have always worked for the unity of Opposition parties against the BJP. “Our attempt is to bring the Opposition together. We will continue to do that. Pawar is a very senior leader who knows what statement to make and what is the right time for it. We do not want to counter anyone at this point as Pawar has repeatedly advocated the need for Opposition unity,” he said.
(With ENS inputs from Mumbai)