By Tirthankar Mitra
Bairan Biswas, the lone Congress legislator from Sagardighi, Murshidabad, defecting to Trinamool Congress does not send a signal of unity in the coming days. The defection comes just ahead of a crucial meeting of Opposition parties at Patna to set the stage for an anti-BJP front in 2024 Lok Sabha elections. It also marks a new low in West Bengal politics which has been value-based over the decades, till hordes of TMC leaders defected to BJP before 2021 Assembly elections, only to return shamefaced in ashes and sackcloth.
The defection almost coincides with state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s contention that some of the TMC government’s measures would still be criticised and opposed, despite the tidings of Lok Sabha 2024. Chowdhury’s words and Biswas’s deed are pointers to the fact that there is no love lost between the TMC and the Congress, notwithstanding a likely electoral understanding in national politics.
The Congress and Trinamool leaderships had been on the same page at the national level, with both staying away from the inauguration of the new Parliament building and the latest NITI Aayog meeting. Chowdhury’s words, in the wake of the twin boycotts, had denoted an intent that may not have been adhered to after the Opposition conclave at Patna resulting in greater Congress-TMC bonhomie.
In this backdrop, Biswas’s defection has led to further deterioration in the Opposition’s inter-party relations. It would boil down to both the Congress and the Trinamool leaders facing greater reluctance among the rank and file when the time comes to make a common cause against the BJP in West Bengal Lok Sabha.
The Congress, post Biswas-switching-sides, is left sans any representation in the key state Assembly. Its leaders attending the Patna meet on 12 June will certainly feel a bad taste in the mouth when they come across their TMC counterparts.
With its presence almost nonexistent beyond the borders of West Bengal, the Trinamool leaders will find it difficult to seek seats from Congress in the latter’s areas of influence in this backdrop. Biswas’s defection has certainly swelled the ranks of the Trinamool legislators, but representatives of the regional parties together with Congress would be wary of TMC as none seeks ‘poaching’ from their flock.
No brainstorming session is necessary to guess the thought uppermost in state Congress chief Chowdhury’s mind. After having once claimed that Biswas will never leave Congress, the leader of the Congress parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha must be eating his words.
It is beyond debate that Biswas’s defection leaves the state Congress chief with egg on his face. The TMC leadership, especially its national general secretary, Abhishek Banerjee, whom the Congress-Left leadership loses no occasion to deride as a political green horn propped up by his aunt chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s support, has clearly outsmarted them as Biswas changed his allegiance in Banerjee’s presence.
The Left, read the CPI(M), has not taken kindly to Biswas changing his political allegiance. After all, he was a Congress nominee supported by the Left Front. Calling Biswas “spineless” as CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP Bikas Ranjan Bhattacharya did, hardly improves things for the Left. For though considered to be more aware of which way the wind is blowing, the Left was clueless of the plot unfolding with Biswas changing sides.
The Left cannot be blamed if in future it demands fielding its own candidate even in a seat more favourable to Congress. Inability of the Congress to ensure the loyalty of the nominee that won as its candidate with Left support, can be cited as the underlying rationale for such a demand.
Though BJP reportedly extended tacit support to Biswas at Sagardighi by-election, the saffron camp appears to have emerged with a marginal gain from his defection. Now it has the sole ISF MLA, Naushad Siddqui, to oppose it during the state Assembly proceedings, apart from the Trinamool MLAs.
The choice of Ghatal as the venue of Biswas’s switchover of political allegiance, being hundreds of kilometres away from his constituency, is significant. One wonders whether the latest defector from Congress to Trinamool was chary of changing sides in a district which had once been a Congress stronghold.
Biswas’s photograph being garlanded with shoes and set on fire at Sagardighi adds credence to this apprehension. Rest assured, a warm welcome is the last thing he can expect when he next comes to his constituency.
Biswas is reported to have said at Ghatal that he had sought nomination from Trinamool and on being denied settled for Congress candidature. The political novice is blissfully unaware that he is declaring himself to be an opportunist, a most undesirable tag in politics.
The Patna meet was in the eye of the entire anti-BJP bloc when its attention shifted to Ghatal for a while. Even as they pack their bags for the Patna meeting, the participants, seasoned political players all will chalk out a game plan to hold their cards close to the chest while dealing with TMC.
Apart from the Congress, the other outfits opposed to the BJP who are coming to Patna are likely be tight-fisted in allotting seats to Trinamool nominees in their sphere of their influence. After all, mutual trust is a key adhesive in forming a coalition, be it in a pre or post-election scenario. But Banerjee, de facto second in command in TMC, showed no qualms in binning it.
Abhishek Banerjee is certain to get a pat on his back from his party leadership for engineering Biswas’s defection. It remains to be seen if the same group of leaders raise their voices in criticism of the defection after the Congress and the other parties bargain hard and leave TMC with crumbs instead of the requisite number of constituencies from which it seeks to field its candidates. (IPA Service)