The Trinamool Congress supremo seems to have taken national politics by storm this week, particularly the Indian National Congress.
November 24 saw 12 out of 17 Congress MLAs in Meghalaya jump ship and get on board the TMC’s boat late at night, in what has been termed a state-wide coup against the grand old party. Is this the beginning of Didi garnering a strong foothold outside of Bengal?
The Mamata Factor
Unlike Owaisi who managed to make little noise over the CAA with threats of creating a Shaheen Bagh like situation in Uttar Pradesh, Mamata Banerjee has proved to be a sound politician. The induction of 12 Congress MLAs into the TMC is the latest blow to strike the Gandhi family. Likely, political strategist Prashant Kishor’s skills have played a huge role in the follow-through of these events, however, it could not have been without Mamata Banerjee’s say so. Former Meghalaya CM Mukul Sangma, who is also one of the MLAs to leave the Congress, said, “We need an effective opposition. We have raised this to the leadership in Delhi. We have made many trips to Delhi, but nothing happened… While looking for options for an opposition space, I ended up meeting my good friend Prashant Kishor ji, whom we all know, who can make a difference. I’m very happy to disclose, when we interacted, we shared the same objective – interest of the people supersede everything.” This has left the grand old party with only five MLAs in the state. The Meghalaya Congress has reportedly experienced turmoil since the appointment of Vincent H. Pala as state unit president in August, of which TMC seems to have taken the correct advantage.
The shift in Meghalaya came a day after former Congress MP Kirti Azad and Janata Dal (United) leader Pawan Varma joined the TMC in Bihar, and former Congress leader Ashok Tanwar did the same in Haryana. The trend was consistent with the Congress to TMC defections of Luizinho Faleiro in Goa, and Sushmita Dev and Abhijit Mukherjee in West Bengal. After winning the Bengal election despite an overwhelming rise for the BJP in the state, Mamata Banerjee has cemented her party’s hold as a regional power. Following the home ground election, she seems to be zeroing in on Delhi, however, not with haste. Making inroads within various states and making her presence felt is already more than what was expected.
The objective of the TMC’s entry in Goa only a few months before the polls was to propel Mamata Banerjee onto the national stage. While there are conflicting reports over the party’s progress in the state with some reports claiming a false media hype, it has still managed to retain some hope given the anti-BJP sentiment. Although the TMC’s plan to merge with Vijay Sardesai’s Goa Forward Party (GFP) fell through since they aligned with the Congress, they decided to amend their agenda to “we are willing to ally with regional parties”. Even so, Sardesai was still of the opinion, “Mamata Banerjee is the pride of a regional party, mine is also a regional party and we both wanted to defeat the BJP in Goa.” Perhaps Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) may not be able to yield the intended result for the party in Goa; it certainly seems to have made at least a small stride since its entry in the state two months ago. However, I-PAC may have to share that credit with the incumbent government’s decreasing popularity.
In a statement on November 24, the TMC supremo also indicated her willingness to support the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party in the Uttar Pradesh election. “If Akhilesh needs our help, then we are ready to extend help,” she said. Banerjee also announced that she is scheduled to meet with Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar during her visit next week, in what seems to be a well-planned effort to establish a national footing and corner the BJP in as many states as ideologically viable.
On The National Stage
The BJP and the TMC were actively and infamously at loggerheads in Bengal before the state assembly election, and neither was shy to voice their displeasure with the other. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cordial meeting with Mamata Banerjee somehow implies that it’s just good politics. After the leaders met, the TMC supremo told the press, “I met Prime Minister Narendra Modi today over a number of state-related issues. We also spoke on the BSF’s jurisdiction extension issue and demanded that this decision be withdrawn.” She said that she also raised the issue of political violence against TMC workers in the state who were allegedly assaulted by BJP party workers. However, she was also sure to acknowledge that the existence of differences between the parties is natural since they believe in different ideologies. Reportedly, she also invited the prime minister to inaugurate the Global Business Summit scheduled to be held in West Bengal next year.
While trying to maintain an affable relationship with the serving government at the Centre is a politically intelligent move, what would it mean for didi’s long-standing relationship with Sonia Gandhi? Moreover, even if the TMC manages to only cut votes in most of these states, it will do so at the expense of the Congress. It may seem like a long shot in Bihar and Haryana, but the assembly election in both these states are ways down the road. It may lose Goa to a regional party and the independents, but Meghalaya seems like a safe bet so far, giving the BJP a run for its money as well. While the TMC and BJP being on the same page is a virtually impossible reality, not posing problems for the former and letting it strengthen selectively might just help the saffron party render the Congress obsolete. But it will be interesting to see if Akhilesh Yadav decides to align with the TMC, especially amid rumours of the Samajwadi Party allying with the Aam Aadmi Party and the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen.
The Group of 23 (G23) is another faction creating problems for the Congress. The BJP even managed to build up a storm against the party over a small excerpt in G23 member and Congress MP Manish Tewari’s new book that criticised the UPA government’s inaction following the 26/11 terrorist attacks by Pakistan in Mumbai. Although Tewari slammed the BJP over it, it was too little too late, especially given the turmoil faced by Punjab Congress, not to mention the Punjab PCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu’s increased camaraderie with Pakistani PM Imran Khan.
BJP MP Dr Subramanian Swamy has also come out in support of Mamata Banerjee. Amid speculation of him joining the party after meeting with her, Dr Swamy said, “I was already with her (Mamata). There is no need for me to join the party.” He also tweeted, “Of the all the politicians I have met or worked with, Mamata Banerjee ranks with JP, Morarji Desai, Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrashekhar, and P V Narasimha Rao who meant what they said and said what they meant. In Indian politics that is a rare quality.” However, political analyst and commentator Amitabh Tiwari supposes, “Subramanian Swamy is retiring in April 2022 from Rajya Sabha. Looking for parties who can get him re-elected!”
Although she is also a strong grassroots leader like PM Modi, when it comes to politics at the Centre stage, Mamata didi still faces a long uphill battle, especially since she is a struggling Hindi speaker and India’s majority population will continue to remain Hindu for the foreseeable future. A strong start in any of the states outside of Bengal, especially if it forces the BJP out of power, could make the TMC’s “new dawn” scheme an unprecedented reality.
The Horus Eye is a weekly column written by Divya Bhan analysing current affairs and policies. This column does not intend or aim to promote any ideology and does not reflect the official position of The Sparrow.