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View | Mamata Banerjee-led TMC chipping away at the Congress base

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Trinamool Congress party is not willing to remain a second-string player as political parties opposed to the BJP work on realignments. No wonder, Mamata Banerjee is exploring new avenues with regional parties like say the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra or the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

View | Mamata Banerjee-led TMC chipping away at the Congress base
Suddenly the Trinamool Congress embarked on a mission to expand its presence in the country. Buoyed by the thumping success in the West Bengal Assembly elections amid stiff challenges from the Bharatiya Janata Party, the TMC is chipping away at Congress base on its way to acquiring a national profile.
Recent inductions of former MPs, one each from Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and Janata Dal (United) through Kirti Azad, Ashok Tanwar and Pavan Varma gave the party space in mainstream media. The TMC followed it up by drafting a dozen legislators in Meghalaya from the Congress led by former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma.
Congress leadership was irked by the move as it resulted in the party losing out the bulk of its 17 legislators in the northeastern state, a region the BJP is focusing on through its Northeast Development Agency.
Mamata Banerjee is working on a plan to penetrate in the region and raised stakes by contesting the municipal polls in Tripura to test the waters. Yet, the results gave the BJP, which is running the government in the state, a massive victory across various local bodies. The Trinamool and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) were reduced to the status of an also-ran.
The setback to TMC in Tripura notwithstanding, the party chief Mamata Banerjee is aiming to carve out a role both for her and the outfit and be ready by the time the 2024 Lok Sabha elections arrive.
Efficacy of lateral inductions cannot be determined anytime soon. For instance, former BJP MP and India cricketer Kirti Azad could neither retain his place in the parent party nor can he boast of a political base, either in his home state of Bihar or adopted city of Delhi. His claim to political lineage comes from his father Bhagwat Jha Azad, a former Congress Union Minister.
Ashok Tanwar was the Congress Haryana state unit chief who during his tenure was barricaded by state leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Despite being backed by Rahul Gandhi, the young Tanwar could not make much of an impression and has been in the political wilderness for the last few years. How much can both these leaders pave the way for the TMC in their respective states or for that matter at national level, would be watched with interest.
Of course, with reach across a segment of the society, both these leaders can become the spokesperson for ‘Didi’. It is in this category that diplomat-turned-politician Pavan Varma can play an important part. Having brought in a well-tuned thought during his term with the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar, he can bring intellectual heft to the arguments the party would employ to counter the current narrative.
Mamata Banerjee’s move to build a cross-party and pan-India presence, either through acquisitions or alliances was a programme she started much ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the run-up to the elections, she reached out to the Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu to build an alternative platform.
Part of it was dictated by a political necessity since her parent party, the Indian National Congress under Rahul Gandhi moved closer to the Left parties, an alliance she bitterly opposed in West Bengal. Her unwavering quest ultimately ended the three-decade run of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led coalition government.
Now, reports suggest the TMC leader is aided in her task to increase its political footprint by I-PAC, a strategist group founded by Prashant Kishor. At least, someone spilled the beans in Shillong on these lines after the Congress camp moved its affiliation. Overnight, the TMC acquired a sizable presence in the state legislature, where the BJP is in government.
Floor crossing in the Northeast is not unknown. Interestingly, during 1999, the Arunachal Congress led by Mukut Mithi ousted formidable Geong Apang as the Chief Minister. The Arunachal Congress was then supporting the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance with Apang’s son Omak in the Union Council of Ministers. Mithi and his flock of legislators under a separate banner flew back to the Congress nest just days before the Vajpayee-government lost the confidence vote in Lok Sabha by a solitary margin. Two Arunachal Congress members joined the ‘against’ vote team tilting the scales.
Coming back to Trinamool Congress, the party is not willing to remain a second-string player as political parties opposed to the BJP work on realignments. No wonder, Ms. Banerjee is exploring new avenues with regional parties like say the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra or the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
On November 29, the first day of the winter session of Parliament the Trinamool MPs stayed away from the opposition coordination meeting convened by the Congress and also staged a separate protest at the Gandhi statue in the precincts on the farmers’ issue.
Mamata Banerjee has been in national/state political limelight since the 1980s when she defeated senior Marxist leader Somnath Chatterjee. She also served in the Narasimha Rao government as the Sports Minister.
The outreach since then and familiarity with leaders of various political parties should assist her in navigating the course at a time when Rahul Gandhi and Congress are unable to offer a cohesive national alternative. There can be no vacuum in politics.
— KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The views expressed are personal.
Read his other columns here
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