By Ashis Biswas
Ahead of the Meghalaya and Tripura state Assembly elections in 2023, Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee , currently visiting the Northeast, is sending out mixed signals to major national parties like the BJP and Congress .
Steps taken by the TMC so far in Meghalaya and Assam, indicate a flexible, carefully balanced approach to issues that would ease the way for the TMC to align either with the national parties during/after the scheduled Lok Sabha polls in 2024.
Observers well acquainted with the somewhat impulsive political style of Ms Banerjee herself, ascribe the astuteness implicit in such a fine-tuned strategy to the TMC’s advisor in chief Mr Prashant Kishor. His IPAC agency of political researchers have long been doing the spadework in states like Manipur, Assam ,Tripura and Meghalaya, working on pre-poll ‘social surveys’ and related matters for the TMC.
In plain language, this means some of the TMC’s recent announcements in Meghalaya may be seemingly directed against the BJP-run Assam Government, reiterating its claims of being the only anti BJP outfit in India — on the other hand, recent steps taken by the TMC in Assam will effectively splinter the traditionally anti-BJP minority vote bank , much to the delight of state Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
The latter is well aware of this . Some time ago, Mr Sarma had said, half in jest, that he would personally help the TMC to contest elections in Assam, emphasizing that the party would cut into the Congress vote bank !
Assam-based media reports commenting on recent moves made by the TMC, now strengthened by the joining of former Congress heavyweight Mr. Ripun Bora, have noted its vitriolic attacks against the predominantly Muslim organisation AIUDF led by MP Badruddin Ajmal. Despite its professedly secular programmes in theory, the All India United Democratic Front is seen largely as the only force that fights for ‘vulnerable Muslims’ (allegedly Bangladeshi infiltrators) in Assam.
The bottom line:the estimated 35% Muslim vote in Assam would be split among the TMC, the AIUDF and Congress Net gains in this for the BJP, another nail into the coffin for the weakening Congress.
In contrast TMC leaders in Assam hardly ever attack the Congress in their public rallies or statements , even while poaching its top leaders and workers at every opportunity. Obviously the TMC does not want to queer its pitch with Congress too strongly, keeping in view the pre-poll scenario for the 2024 Lok sabha polls. It would not close the door on its options to join a nation-wide anti BJP coalition.
Now that Mr. Bora has joined the TMC following his failure to retain his Rajya Sabha seat, the TMC expects to make inroads into the relatively hard core Assamiya community. Having snatching Ms Sushmita Dev from Congress some time ago, the TMC feels relatively more comfortable about firming up a Bengali vote bank in the Barak Valley.
In Meghalaya, Ms Banerjee’s comments against the Assam administration and its dealings with the smaller states have been described as ‘inflammatory ‘ in sections of the state-based media, at a time Chief Ministers of both states have been busy in defusing tensions and maintaining order.She was addressing tribal party workers in Shillong. The TMC , according to Shillong-based analysts was wooing the dominant Khasi tribe, whereas it felt more comfortable with its present support base in Garo-tribe dominated Tura and adjacent regions.
Using words whose directness attracted local media attention, Ms Banerjee accused the Assam Government of trying to take over Meghalaya land. The TMC would always support local people actively in their fight against the Assam Government, she declared . No action had been taken in Guwahati, she alleged against policemen involved in the killing of five people over a misunderstanding of territorial jurisdiction between the two state governments, she alleged.
She paid Rs 500,000 as compensation to the next of kin of the victims. Further she assured Meghalaya voters of paying at least one women in every family Rs 1000 a month, as in West Bengal, if the TMC was elected to power in Meghalaya. She referred to other similar welfare schemes already running with great success in West Bengal in this context. Local media persons noted her unfamiliarity with the names of various tribal groups and their leaders, incidentally. TMC leaders also met prominent Christian leaders and opinion makers , appealing to them to bring about’ a political change’ in the state to empower the people more.
While most other parties adopted a wait and watch mode about the TMC’s moves, there was no doubting the galvanizing impact within the TMC of Ms Banerjee’s visit. Other parties too, began pre poll preparations with slightly more urgency, bringing out posters and banners, though not on a scale comparable to the TMC show.
Senior state leader Mr Mukul Sangma said that the TMC would contest all 60 seats, and some of its candidates had already been decided informally. This at a time most other parties were far from finalising such matters.
Local observers also noted that the TMC’s aggressive campaign would certainly cut into the support base of Congress and the National Peoples’ Party NPP led by ruling Chief Minister Mr Conrad Sangma and supported by the minuscule BJP. In other words, in Meghalaya too, the TMC would in effect contest and seek to reduce the votes won by two non-BJP parties, which may encourage the saffron party to expand its own campaign and seek fresh gains in none-too-familiar territory ! (IPA Service)