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Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

TMC stands firm on V-P poll abstention, but worries about blowback persist

Some senior leaders are concerned about how the move will play out in north Bengal and the effect on the party's minority vote bank.

West Bengal CM and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) is officially holding firm on its decision to abstain from the vice-presidential elections, but the move has engendered fears in the organisation that it will be viewed as giving the BJP a walkover at a time the Opposition party is on the back foot in the state. A senior party functionary also expressed concern about how it will affect the party’s hold on the minority vote bank.

The Mamata Banerjee-led party took the decision on Thursday following a meeting of its MPs in Kolkata. The Trinamool Congress had taken the lead to field a joint Opposition candidate for the presidential elections and all the anti-BJP outfits ended up choosing TMC leader Yashwant Sinha. But the NDA’s decision to nominate Droupadi Murmu, now the President-elect, put the TMC in a bind as opposing a candidate from a tribal community could have opened it up to attacks from the BJP and eroded its tribal vote bank. Mamata Banerjee said the party could have considered supporting Murmu had the BJP made the announcement earlier, and Sinha skipped Bengal during his campaign.

The BJP then bowled a wrong’un at the Trinamool by nominating Jagdeep Dhankhar as the NDA’s vice-presidential candidate. As the governor of West Bengal, Dhankhar had repeated run-ins with the state government and the ruling party’s leaders, who accused him of partisanship. Speculation that something was afoot first emerged when Banerjee met Dhankhar and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma in Darjeeling last week. On Sunday, TMC skipped the meeting in New Delhi at which Margaret Alva was chosen as the Opposition’s vice-presidential poll nominee.

After Thursday’s meeting, TMC number two and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee said the party would not support Dhankhar and underlined that it could not vote for Alva either as it had “not been consulted” about her candidature.

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Opposition’s vice presidential candidate Margaret Alva files her nomination papers in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and other opposition leaders at Parliament House, in New Delhi. (PTI)

“Mamata Banerjee asked every party MP what the stand should be,” said a senior TMC MP. “She pointed out how the TMC was informed only 15 minutes before the meeting was called. Moreover, towards the end of the presidential poll meeting, Sharad Pawar did not allow her to speak. The party cannot be taken for granted and the feeling was that Opposition unity had somehow only become the Trinamool’s responsibility.”

But Congress insiders claimed that their party president Sonia Gandhi had spoken to Banerjee twice before announcing Alva’s candidature and was made to believe that the TMC would support whoever the rest of the Opposition chose. Asked if his party’s move could dent Opposition unity, Abhishek Banerjee said, “Opposition unity is not dependent on choosing presidential or vice-presidential candidates … or such polls … One has to rise above ego and self-interest. Opposition unity can be proved by fighting shoulder to shoulder on the streets … We welcome those (parties) that want to take on the BJP on the streets like us.”

The TMC’s decision has created a flutter within the party. With both the CPI(M) and the Congress alleging that the TMC and the BJP have a tacit understanding regarding the presidential and vice-presidential polls — Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has labelled Banerjee “the BJP’s broker” — some TMC leaders are worried about the impact of the move on the party’s minority vote bank. A leader from north Bengal said he was apprehensive about the effect on the region’s political matrix.

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“We are on the backfoot from the presidential election,” admitted a senior TMC leader. “First, our supremo took the initiative to challenge the BJP by uniting the Opposition. But, that did not work out after the developments in Maharashtra. Moreover, there was apprehension that opposing Droupadi Murmu will disturb our tribal vote bank. Now, abstaining from the vice-presidential election has further led to whispers about a hidden pact between the TMC and the BJP. We got a majority in the Assembly elections last year only because a large portion of educated Hindus and almost the entire minority community voted for us. If they start believing that we are the BJP’s B-Team our vote bank will get eroded.”

The senior functionary from north Bengal said, “Here in north Bengal, the BJP is almost the ruling party. We started regaining our foothold after the 2021 Assembly elections. In such a situation, the decision to abstain may demoralise our party workers because it seems somehow that our party is helping Dhankhar win. It can damage our organisation in north Bengal.”

Cross-voting in presidential poll

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Also worrying for the TMC is that one of its votes went to Murmu in the presidential election. While the effective strength of the BJP in the West Bengal Assembly is 70, the NDA candidate received 71 votes.

“As promised by me all 70 @BJP4Bengal MLAs voted in favour of Smt. Draupadi Murmu ji. While 1 @AITCofficial MLA cross-voted in favour of the President-Elect, 4 TMC MLAs ensured that their votes were regarded invalid! 71 votes were polled in favour of Smt. Murmu ji in WB Assembly,” Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari tweeted on Thursday night.

Yashwant Sinha received 216 votes from the state Assembly while four votes got cancelled. The BJP claimed that these four votes were from the TMC camp and were intentionally wasted.

First published on: 22-07-2022 at 07:04:37 pm
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