By Sagarneel Sinha
The Trinamool Congress is trying hard again to gain a foothold in Tripura, where the party’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee held his first rally on October 31. It had made several attempts in the past to expand the party in the northeastern state. After the return of party supremo Mamata Banerjee as the chief minister for the third time in West Bengal, TMC knows that this is the best time to once again spread the party outside Bengal. Although TMC is a recognised national party, its national party status is in danger and it is expected to lose the status when it will be reviewed by the Election Commission in 2024. Retaining the national party status is crucial for Mamata’s national ambitions.
In his first rally, Abhishek declared that in the 2023 state assembly elections, “TMC would form the government in the state by defeating the ruling BJP and the main opposition CPI(M).” The rally of Abhishek received media attention, as expected, from a section of favourable media houses. Although the rally wasn’t that successful, the party should thank the Tripura High Court, which had ordered that the rally be limited to only 500 people. It was this order that saved TMC’s face.
The party’s strategy seems to be more about attracting media headlines and as of now, it has been successful in doing so. The joining of former West Bengal state minister Rajib Banerjee back to the party in the presence of Abhishek in Agartala indicates that. Ahead of the Bengal assembly polls, Rajib left TMC to join BJP and contested from his Domjur seat, where he lost by a big margin. Although he was recently made a member of the National Executive Committee of the saffron party, he had given enough indications of his intentions to return to TMC after BJP’s defeat in the state polls. On the other hand, TMC was reluctant to accept Rajib, who was called a traitor by party leaders during the poll campaign. True that Rajib assisted senior party leader Mukul Roy in spreading the party’s base in Tripura in the past. But this can’t hide the bitter truth that one of the main reasons behind TMC asking Rajib to rejoin the party in Tripura is keeping in mind the reservations many party leaders, workers and supporters in West Bengal have regarding him. This came out in the open when the party’s senior leader and Lok Sabha MP Kalyan Banerjee openly expressed his unhappiness over the re-induction of Rajib.
Another reason for Rajib’s induction to the party in Agartala was to send a message to the disgruntled section of BJP leaders in the state. The message was aimed at rebel BJP MLAs led by Sudip Barman of the Agartala constituency. The other disgruntled MLAs are Ashish Kumar Saha, Burbamohan Tripura and Diba Chandra Hrangkhawl. Not to forget that Sudip and his associates had earlier joined TMC in 2016 leaving the Congress and later within a year left TMC to join the BJP. At the rally one of Sudip’s associates, Surma constituency MLA Ashis Das joined TMC. Ashish is going to lose his MLA as already the speaker of the state Legislative Assembly Ratan Chakraborty has initiated action under the anti-defection law. In the Surma constituency, the majority of the BJP supporters aren’t with Ashish and among the opposition parties, it is only CPI(M) which at least has a visible organisation on the ground. If the present situation continues, in the case of a bypoll in the Surma constituency, the contest is likely to be between BJP and CPI(M) with TMC being the third player.
In the ongoing civic body polls, TMC has failed to field candidates for all the 334 seats and is contesting only on 124 seats. In the Agartala Municipal Corporation, it has managed to field candidates in all the 51 seats due to the ‘secret’ support it received from the rebel Sudip camp, which has its influence in the Agartala area. Apart from AMC, the party is mainly in the contest only in 3-4 civic bodies and in the rest of the bodies, it is contesting from only selected seats. Given the bitter experience of the past, both the Sudip camp and TMC leadership are cautious this time to enter into a new pact. Already the Sudip camp is marginalised by the BJP leadership and if the situation continues, the camp has no way but to exit the saffron party If the TMC performs better in AMC, the Sudip camp is likely to emerge powerful and would be in a position to deal both with BJP and TMC.
The fact is TMC is yet to build an organisation across the state. Apart from this, it still lacks a credible face in the state. Already there are rumours of rifts between the chairman of the party’s state steering committee Subal Bhowmik and Ashish Lal Singh, the party’s former state president. Also, Subal doesn’t share good relations with Sudip, who is wooed by TMC. In the past, Subal left Congress being unhappy with Sudip, then state Congress president, and had formed his own party — Tripura Gramin Congress, which failed to create a space in the state politics. It’s also a fact that the Sudip camp doesn’t have a strong presence across the state and in the past too, despite the joining of 6 Congress MLAs led by Sudip, TMC failed to get the massive support across the state it had expected. Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev is a leader from Assam and whether the people of the state will wholeheartedly accept her as a face in the elections is also a big question. The party tried to ally with royal scion Pradyut Debbarman led TIPRA Motha but the tribal party isn’t much interested in allying with TMC. Motha is ready to ally with TMC only if the latter declares support for Greater Tipraland. It is politically not possible for any political party aspiring to get the support of the majority Bengalis living in the plains to support the demand.
It seems that the TMC is targeting the north-eastern state mainly to achieve at least 6% vote share or secure at least 3 seats in the state assembly to save its national party status in 2024. In the state, Congress still has a vote base, which shifted towards the BJP in the 2018 state assembly polls but a section returned to the party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Although TMC has been successful in attracting the Congress voters in many places, the fact remains that the party in its current scenario is still a weak player for the upcoming 2023 state assembly polls, despite getting over the top coverage from a section of favourable media houses. As of now, the fight in the state is between BJP and CPI(M) led Left Front. (IPA Service)