By Ashis Biswas
For some time now, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Bengal has been accused by other opposition parties of effectively helping the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) through its decisions, while attacking it verbally. Last week, two seemingly contradictory steps taken by the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee further strengthened such allegations. In the process, the present initiative launched by other parties to forge a united common front against the BJP, has begun to look unconvincing.
The facts speak for themselves. On March 2, poll results in various states were announced. The thumping defeat of the TMC candidate by nearly 23,000 votes at Sagardighi Assembly seat by-election to a Congress candidate shocked the ruling party in Bengal. The TMC had won at Sagardighi in the Muslim-majority Murshidabad by nearly 50,000 votes in 2018. At Sagardighi, around 64% of the electorate was Muslim. The INC had contested the seat in alliance with the Left Front.
Putting on a brave face Chief Minister Ms Mamata Banerjee declared then and there from Kolkata, the ‘TMC would not align itself with any party in the coming elections’(presumably referring to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls). It would align with ‘the people’, she said, without further explanation. The CPI(M), Congress and the BJP had ditched political principles to spite the TMC at Sagardighi. Never mind, the TMC would take on all three parties alone and defeat them heavily, she asserted.
Yet only a couple of days later, Ms Banerjee was among the leading signatories in a letter sent to the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi by nine opposition parties. Signing as the leader of the AITC (All India Trinamool Congress), she joined other leaders in urging upon Mr. Modi to stop investigating agencies like the Enforcement Directorate(ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from harassing opposition leaders! The letter was written to protest the recent arrest of Mr. Manish Sisodia, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and Minister of Delhi, by the CBI on corruption charges.
Clearly, TMC leaders contrary to Ms Banerjee’s dramatic announcement had not ruled out joining other parties in common anti-BJP initiatives. But the move, coming so soon after their supremo’s announcing her decision to ‘go it alone’, confused most observers as well as TMC loyalists
Could it be that Ms Banerjee’s ‘Akla Chalo re’ slogan found no support within the TMC? Had Mr Abhishek Banerjee the TMC General Secretary somehow persuaded the majority of TMC leaders to function as before in coordination with other opposition parties?
Significantly, the TMC’s recent tactic of not co–operating with the INC even at the cost of weakening any anti-BJP action, remained in place. The opposition remained divided. No representative of the biggest national opposition party, Congress, was named in the letter to the Prime Minister. This fuelled speculation in Kolkata whether, regardless of the Bengal Chief Minister’s words on March 2, the TMC had lobbied as in the past among other parties to keep the INC out.
TMC insiders admitted in Kolkata that fortunes of the INC had somewhat improved after the partial success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra carried out by Mr. Rahul Gandhi. As the INC tried to increase its mass contact, in some areas people came forward spontaneously to express their interest in major party programmes. They were keen to see more of Mr Gandhi, and other leaders like Mr Jairam Ramesh, Mr M. Kharge, Mr P. Chidambaram and Mrs Priyanka Vadra, taking on the BJP more actively. They also expressed their disillusionment over the BJP’s lacklustre performance during the last 2/3 years and its indifference to the economic hardships among commoners.
In contrast, the TMC’s own miserable performance could not be concealed, not just in Bengal .Party leader Madan Mitra publicly asked for an explanation as to why the TMC should lose a seat it had won by over 50,000 votes in 2018, lose so heavily in 2023 ? There were also mutterings among other Bengal leaders and workers as to why the high profile expensive campaigning carried out in Tripura and Meghalaya failed so abjectly. Both Ms Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek had actively campaigned in both states, apart from taking all major local level decisions.
Clearly the recent relentless opposition campaign targeting major corruption among TMC leaders and scores of arrests made by investigating agencies were beginning to hurt the TMC, some leaders admitted. Whether in the education, public welfare schemes run by centre or the state Government, illegal sand mining, cattle smuggling and other crimes, the involvement of state-level TMC Ministers, MLAs, Civic councillors, panchayat leaders etc had shocked everyone. Corruption involving thousands of cores of rupees and the political nexus involving high police and various departmental officers had been proved beyond doubt.
The party’s recent forays in Tripura and Meghalaya were in part intended to divert public attention from the humongous corruption carried out by Bengal TMC leaders, covered widely in the national media as well. Such negative media coverage had lowered the party’s prestige and standing among other opposition parties and common people in many areas, leaders admitted, while not willing to be quoted.
’It would have helped our cause if the TMC had won a few seats in both Tripura and Meghalaya, but the final results were nothing short of a political disaster. Currently, our position is weaker than before in Bengal, as the opposition parties are getting stronger, and we have no following in other states either,’ a senior leader said.
Therefore, he explained it was natural for the party to send out what might seem to be confusing signals to other parties and common people, as the TMC was indeed groping for a way out of the crisis it found itself in.
In Tripura, state –based TMC leaders lost no time to declare publicly that they had not really been consulted all through the pre-poll campaign, as Kolkata-based leaders dominated the preparations! Even in Meghalaya, followers of veteran state leader, former Chief Minister Mr Mukul Sangma expressed their disillusionment with the TMC leadership, according to state media reports.
There can be no denying that the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC is currently engaged an in existential struggle, even as senior party leaders pretend in their public appearances that it’s very much ‘business as usual . The TMC has the organizational capability to make amends like it did after the big losses in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Supporters of Abhishek Banerjee say that the party will do the course correction and it will ensure that the TMC will be back to its winning ways in the coming panchayat elections in April/ May this year. (IPA Service)