The Congress is caught in the state versus Centre dilemma once again; this time over whether to field a candidate against Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee when she contests from Bhabanipur for the bypoll on September 30.
Sources tell News18 that the Congress top brass is not keen to put up a candidate Banerjee for two reasons: one, the growing bonhomie between the Congress and TMC. Just recently, Banerjee had a meeting with Sonia Gandhi where she made it clear that the opposition needs to come together and forget personal differences if the BJP has to be defeated.
When Sushmita Deb quit the Grand Old Party to join the TMC, the parting too was not bitter. Banerjee told her TMC colleagues that no bad words should be used against Sonia Gandhi and this was evident as Sushmita, in all her interviews and press conferences, refused to attack the Gandhis. This also ensured that she could act as a bridge between the TMC and Congress for future strategies to be chalked out.
However, it's this exodus from the Congress to the TMC which is now being raised by state Congress leaders as reason why the TMC cannot be trusted. A Kolkata-based Congress leader asked: "Should all opposition unity 'maryada' be followed only by us? What was the need to admit Abhijit Mukherjee and Sushmita? Why is the TMC asking for a list of other Congress leaders they can rope in?"
Also read | EC announces bypoll for Mamata Banerjee's home seat, 3 others on September 30, defers for 31 other constituencies
In the recent state polls, Congress — despite its alliance with the Left — had got zero seats in their worst-ever performance which invited flak for the state leadership. What's worse is that just days after results, state in-charge Jitin Prasada joined the BJP.
Before leaving, Prasada in his feedback said the party’s confused stand vis-à-vis the TMC during polls had confused its core voters as well. He also slammed the alliance with the Left at the insistence of state president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary, calling it a "miscalculation".
The state leaders now argue that given the poor performance and TMC’s expansion plans, not putting up a symbolic fight would demoralise the state cadre even more. More importantly, it wouldn't help that a national party like the Congress was not ready to put up a fight against one of the strongest contenders to PM Narendra Modi in 2024.
However, at the centre, the choice and decision seems to have been made. Clearly, the top brass finds more merit in the argument of Banerjee that the fight against BJP in 2024 is bigger and if for this they have to give up a smaller one, it's worth it. Many parties have done so in the past; for instance, the SP never bothered to pit anyone opposite Rahul or Sonia Gandhi. In politics, a certain give-and-take makes sound sense.
First Published: IST