Not many incumbent chief ministers have taken on a full-throttle Narendra Modi-Amit Shah electoral charge and lived to tell the tale. Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee has not just done that, but she is also now gearing up to write the second volume of that story, this time on a pan-India canvas.
Whether her national ambitions this time have a better outcome than 2014, when she had fielded candidates in several Lok Sabha constituencies across the country – many of whom lost their deposits – only time will tell. But the very fact that leaders across the political divide have begun to find Trinamool Congress a viable option for anti-Modi politics makes the ruling party in West Bengal ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
A party for partyless leaders
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) clearly owes its newfound status as a magnet for largely partyless leaders to the resounding loss it handed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the West Bengal assembly election held over March and April this year. But replicating that model at the national level would need more than just names and faces. It would need actual grassroots presence, which, incidentally, is also what Trinamool means.
The TMC will need organisation at the micro level in the states where it is planning to fight elections and it will also need the financial muscle needed to do so. Pitching Mamata Banerjee as “Bengal’s daughter” can be a vote-spinner only in West Bengal. High-profile inductions will earn the party headlines, not necessarily votes.
Entries and exits are nothing new for Trinamool. The party lost a slew of its top political leaders to the BJP in the run-up to the 2021 assembly election in the state, including its number two Mukul Roy. He was among the earliest to shift in 2017, and many others have since returned to the TMC but leaders with little public connect beyond Bengal, some of them with a severe linguistic hurdle, are not what prime ministerial ambitions are made of.
That is where Trinamool’s new entrants, from former IFS officer Pawan Varma to former Union minister Yashwant Sinha and one-time Rahul Gandhi confidante Ashok Tanwar, will come in handy. Outspoken BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy too met Banerjee during her three-day tour of Delhi though he did not join the party.
In Tripura, the TMC is doing to the Congress and the Left Front what the BJP did to the TMC in West Bengal. Most of its candidates in the just-concluded municipal polls have antecedents in other political parties. Party-hopping by leaders has also held the TMC in good stead in Meghalaya where it is now the principal opposition party. All this political tourism understandably is making Trinamool’s original crop jittery and insecure, with many scared of losing their Rajya Sabha seats.
A change is on the way
Even without the external pressure of Rajya Sabha hopefuls, this is a time for internal churning within the TMC, with party general secretary Abhishek Banerjee firmly at the helm. Power equations within the party are being rearranged, with Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra leading the charge in Goa and Rajya Sabha chief whip Sukhendu Shekhar Roy being made the Haryana in-charge. Clearly, as it gears up for a bigger role in national politics, the TMC‘s days of being represented in major political platforms in Delhi by just one or two faces is set to change.
Trinamool Congress is no stranger to rainbow inductions. In 2014 in Varanasi, it had fielded against then-PM aspirant Narendra Modi and his challenger Arvind Kejriwal, Indira Tiwari, former general secretary of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha.
The TMC is also not oblivious to its own electoral interests. For example, while much was made in the Urdu media of Trinamool MPs dharna in front of North Block protesting against party leaders’ harassment in Tripura, the party steered clear in its memorandum to Union Home Minister Amit Shah of any mention of the mosque burning incidents that has caused much outrage in Tripura and beyond. Trinamool Congress may have built Muslims in West Bengal as a committed vote bank but in Tripura, the community makes up a measly 8 per cent of the population.
But to have a truly pan-India appeal, merely inducting discards from other parties will not do. Trinamool Congress has its task cut out. It has to take on the man who is arguably India’s best political communicator. The TMC will have to decide what its political message is beyond anti-Modiism. Without that, it may only end up adding to Modi’s electoral heft.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)