Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee has written to several opposition parties across the country, asking them to attend a 15 June meeting in New Delhi to decide on a common candidate for the upcoming Presidential polls, indicating her intent to play a key role in the election.
This comes at a time when the Congress has already been reaching out to various parties to ascertain whether they are in favour of fielding a joint contender against the ruling National Democratic Alliance’s nominee.
Among those invited to Mamata’s meeting are Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann and NCP chief Sharad Pawar are also among the invitees.
TMC leaders involved in preparations for the key meeting scheduled next week told ThePrint that their party is looking for a strong candidate, who could be a “non-Congress” face.
Having crushed the BJP in last year’s West Bengal assembly elections, the Trinamool has been eyeing a bigger national role.
Mamata had last reached out to Sonia in January, offering a tie-up for the Goa assembly polls, but did not get a favourable response.
Also Read: Mukul Roy, Babul Supriyo, now Arjun Singh: Why BJP is losing the plot in Mamata’s Bengal
‘Mamata meeting uncalled for, will hurt opposition’s image’
Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury claimed that Mamata’s plan to call a meeting of opposition parties is “uncalled for”.
“Sonia Gandhi has entrusted Mallikarjun Kharge with the role of having talks with opposition leaders to identify one Presidential candidate amongst the opposition parties. She herself has telephoned opposition leaders. Mamata Banerjee is now suddenly convening this meeting to steal the march of the opposition alliance,” Chowdhury told ThePrint.
“The process is already set in motion. This will only hurt the opposition’s image,” he further said.
Asked if the Congress had reached out to TMC, Chowdhury said it was not “within his ambit to disclose the information”.
Contacted by ThePrint, TMC Sukhendu Sekhar Roy said no names had been discussed so far by his party and that it would be on the agenda during the Delhi meet. A source in the Trinamool also said that it would be better if the parties came up with the name organically during the meeting.
“Maybe there will be two discussions as Mallikarjun Kharge is already in talks with other parties. But no party should pre-decide they will pitch Congress or non-Congress candidates. Discussions must be held, and the aim should be to defeat the BJP candidate. But our party president will decide and take the final call,” Congress MP Pradip Bhattacharya told ThePrint.
“Presidential elections are around the corner, presenting the perfect opportunity for all progressive opposition parties to reconvene and deliberate on the future course of Indian politics,” Mamata’s letter to opposition leaders read.
Referring to the 15 June meeting, TMC sources said “egos will be kept aside as this could be seen as a big test for opposition unity”.
TMC’s attempt to lead opposition ‘premature’
Looking beyond Bengal, Mamata had — after being elected the state’s chief minister for the third consecutive term — in July last year suggested forming a steering committee of opposition leaders while on a visit to New Delhi. However, that plan has not taken off so far, with opposition leaders contesting against each other electorally in state polls such as that of Uttar Pradesh and Goa earlier this year.
Biswanath Chakraborty, political analyst and professor of political science at Kolkata’s Rabindra Bharati University, feels that the TMC’s aspirations to become the opposition lead are premature.
“The more Mamata writes these letters nationally or tries to isolate Congress, the BJP will benefit and hurt the opposition. There is no success story of Mamata at the national level. So, it needs the Congress at all costs,” he told ThePrint.
While Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal and Andhra CM Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress party are likely to support the BJP once again like they did in 2017, all eyes are now on which opposition party leaders attend Mamata’s meet in Delhi in the coming week as the Congress seems to be walking on its own path.
(Note: An earlier version of this report stated that Biswanath Chakraborty is a professor of political science at the Bangabasi College. The same has been corrected.)
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
Also Read: As AAP’s Kejriwal eyes bigger role, TMC says ‘Mamata has no national aspirations’ after Goa loss