Barely six months before the Assembly elections in Tripura, the state unit of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has suffered a major setback with its leader Baptu Chakraborty along with a large group of his supporters quitting the party and joining the Congress.
Baptu, who started his political career with the Congress’s youth wing a decade ago before going on to become an All India Congress Committee (AICC) member, had later defected to the BJP. He said he had left the BJP to switch to the TMC as the former “cheated” the people. He charged that the TMC was “no better” and was “actually acting as the ruling BJP’s B-team”.
Making a comeback to the Congress, Baptu said the grand old party led by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi was the “largest platform fighting against BJP” and that he has returned to the party in a bid to join its efforts to dislodge the BJP from power in the state Assembly polls early next year.
According to the Congress, about 2,517 workers from the TMC and other parties, including the CPM and BJP, joined its fold Sunday, thereby giving it a shot in the arm ahead of the polls.
Hitting back on Monday, the TMC said about 50 state Congress leaders and workers have joined its fold, with the party rejecting claims that it is gripped by internal rifts. Senior TMC leader Rajib Banerjee then said, “Yesterday, Congress tried to confuse people by making some false claims. Some of our party workers joined Congress. Anyone can join any party, it’s their choice. But many TMC workers including our veteran executive member Debu Ghosh, whom Congress claimed to have joined them, didn’t actually join.”
The TMC was decimated in the state Assembly bypolls held in June, garnering about 3 per cent votes, which seems to have made its leaders restive. In the 4 Assembly seats where bypolls were held, the BJP bagged 3 seats while the Congress won 1.
Last year, the TMC had got 16.39 per cent vote share in the state urban local body elections even as it had finished second in the Agartala Municipal Corporation polls. The party had then claimed to have emerged as the “BJP’s real challenger”.
Putting up a brave face now, Rajib said, “We are in touch with our leaders and supporters. No one will leave the party anymore. We are all in it together to rescue democracy and put up a fight against BJP.”
Criticising Baptu, he said, “They are offering made-up excuses to quit the party. He was made a general secretary… He participated in party events even four days back and spoke with me. Today he is saying TMC is B-team of BJP. This is just an excuse,”
claiming that the deserting activists would return to the party before the polls.
The Tripura TMC’s president Subal Bhowmik had said following its bypolls debacle that the party was looking to “consolidate” the non-BJP votes to ensure the ruling party did not get an advantage due to a fractured Opposition. He even said that the electors made the “right decision” by voting in favour of the Congress instead of the TMC due to which the BJP lost a seat to the Congress.
Striking an optimistic note for the TMC’s future prospects in the state, Bhowmik had then also said, “We had some organisational weaknesses, we had some problems of continuity – we could not build a vote bank though we have the support of the people… The future of the TMC is bright.”
Two months down the line, however, the desertion of a large group of its leaders and workers and the lack of a face have put a big question mark over the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC’s future innings in Tripura.
The state TMC has claimed that it is taking measures to revive the party and its frontal organisations at the grass-roots level. The party has constituted full-fledged committees of its youth, women and SC wings in the last couple of days.
However, several political observers have dismissed the TMC’s moves as “more of sound and fury than substance”.
On its part, the BJP brushed aside the question that it would face a challenge from the TMC or the Congress. “They don’t have any political relevance in Tripura to be concerned about. These are their internal matters. We are fully confident of winning the 2023 Assembly elections,” a senior BJP leader, who did not want to be named, said. The leader also alleged that the CPM was hand-in-gloves with the Congress.