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As Congress units collapse, TMC fishes in troubled waters, gets feelers from G-23 leaders

The Trinamool Congress, which has been inducting senior Congress leaders, says it is only looking to retain its ‘national party’ status. 

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Kolkata: The Congress’ internal battles, with the number of its dissenters growing every day, has led to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) fishing in the troubled waters. 

The TMC has reached out to the members of G-23 — a group of 23 Congress leaders who have been taking on the party high command demanding accountability for the organisational drift — to try to bring them into the Trinamool fold. At least two senior Congress leaders, G-23 members, are in touch with Mamata Banerjee’s party, ThePrint has learnt. Some of the G-23 members include Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Manish Tewari, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Veerappa Moily among others.    

This comes at a time when there is a war of words between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress over the latter embracing Congress defectors such as Goa’s Luizinho Faleiro and Assam’s Sushmita Dev. TMC leaders maintain that their party is only trying to retain its national status, and not attempting to weaken the Congress. 

“Two very senior members of the G-23 group of Congress leaders are working closely with us. They were ministers in UPA. Both of them are in touch with Mamata Banerjee,” a senior minister in the West Bengal cabinet told The Print. “There are several stages of negotiation, so we do not yet know if they will join our party or not. We may get clarity in the next one or two months.”

The Trinamool has been looking to consolidate its position, particularly in smaller states such as Tripura, Meghalaya and Goa. The expansion, however, is primarily coming at the cost of Congress. 

The TMC has also been stepping up its attack on the Congress, with party general secretary and Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, last week accusing the Congress of doing little to take on the BJP.  

Trinamool Congress leaders, however, maintain that their party is only trying to expand to states to retain its national status and not to hurt Congress. 

“To retain national party status, Trinamool needs to have elected members in some states. We are trying to get that,” said West Bengal minister and senior TMC leader Subrata Mukherjee.

“As far as the Congress-Trinamool equation for 2024 is concerned, it will only be determined by how the upcoming state election results go. We have to find space in the states, where regional parties are not very strong,” he added.

Also read: Mamata shadow on Oppn unity as she says BJP can ‘silence’ Mulayam, Pawar, Congress but not TMC

Fight to retain national party status 

Trinamool Congress was declared as a national party by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in September 2016 after being recognised as a state party in four states —   West Bengal, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. 

Trinamool fought elections in all these states. It got five MLAs in Arunachal in 2009, and seven MLAs Manipur in 2012. It fought elections in Tripura in 2018, but drew a blank. Between 2009 and 2016, Trinamool became a state party in these three northeastern states and got the national party status in 2016. 

Trinamool, however, lost state party status in these states as it won in one seat in Manipur, which took its vote share from 17 per cent in 2012 to 1.4 per cent in 2017 in the state. It did not fight elections in Arunachal.  

Post the 2019 general elections, the ECI served a notice to Trinamool, asking why its national party status should not be revoked because it did not secure at least six per cent of the votes polled in four states. 

Trinamool, which was then a three-year-old national party, sought time until the 2024 elections, claiming the party should get two consecutive general elections to meet the ECI conditions of staying a national party. 

According to the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 2017, a party is accorded national status if its candidates secure at least six per cent of the votes polled in four states or more and if it has at least four MPs in the Lok Sabha.

Trinamool now needs representation in three more states and it has targeted Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Goa. 

The expansion plans, however, appear to be coming at the cost of the Congress. 

After inducting Sushmita Dev, the former Congress MP from Assam, and Congress MLA Faleiro, who was chief minister of Goa for a cumulative eight months between November 1998 and November 1999, Trinamool is now in talks with Congress MLA  and former Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma.

“Congress is in turmoil. The state units are collapsing like houses of cards. Their leaders are approaching us and joining,” Trinamool MP Saugata Roy told The Print. “I had been in the Congress for a very long time, but this Congress is different. Their veteran leaders are also criticising the leadership openly.”

“The Trinamool is on an expansion mode. We need to occupy a national space and we are doing that. I know it will take time, but we have to start from somewhere,” he added. “Mamata is now emerging as a credible national face. Senior politicians from different states are flocking to her. We are not poaching them; they are joining us. I think Soniaji will see this. Political equations take time to unravel.” 

Congress maintains silence 

In the past fortnight, the Trinamool Congress, primarily its national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, has attacked the Congress calling it an “ineffective” party that “does not work” and “likes to stay in its comfort zone”. 

This comes on the back of Mamata Banerjee’s visit to Delhi two months ago and her meeting with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi pledging Opposition unity. 

Her party’s mouthpiece Jago Bangla, in its editorials, also calls the Congress a “circus” and says that it “failed” the nation. The mouthpiece also projects Mamata Banerjee as the “face of the national Opposition”.

So far, however, barring a few senior Congress leaders such as Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, party veterans remained tight-lipped on the issue.  

ThePrint tried to reach a host of senior Congress leaders, including the senior members of the G-23 group, seeking their comments on the issue through text and WhatsApp messages.  

Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh and Abhishek Manu Singhvi responded saying they didn’t want to comment on the situation. 

The Print also reached G-23 leaders including Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor through texts, but it is yet to receive any response from them. 

Randeep Singh Surjewala, the party general secretary, replied saying “it is okay”. 

A senior AICC member and an MP, who does not want to be named, said, “Trinamool Congress is trying to save its national party status. In 2019, the Election Commission said that Trinamool and CPI may lose their national party status, to which both these parties sought time until the 2024 elections. 

“The Trinamool Congress is left with the only option of getting some people from the Congress, and starting branch offices in some smaller states, where Congress units were mishandled,” he added. “So, Mamata Banerjee, with help and assistance of Prashant Kishor, is targeting states like Tripura, Goa and Meghalaya. Our senior leaders are not bothered about them.” 

West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, however, slammed Mamata Banerjee, calling her a “cantankerous”  politician, who is “never fit for coalition politics”. He added that Mamata Banerjee is working as an “RSS agent” who hurts Congress and the Opposition unity to aid the BJP.  “Soniaji and Rahulji will never stoop so low. So they will never speak against her. Our main aim is to keep BJP out in 2024,” he said. 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Mamata gets Chandipath flawless this time, in a year she has expanded her outreach to Hindus


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