Mumbai: Following a meeting with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar Wednesday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said there is no United Progressive Alliance (UPA) any more, and that the opposition umbrella led by the Congress is over.
Addressing reporters, the Trinamool Congress chairperson Banerjee and NCP chief Pawar also said they would work towards forming an opposition alliance of like-minded parties for the 2024 elections, irrespective of whether the Congress came on board. Wednesday afternoon, Pawar and Banerjee had an hour-long meeting at the former’s Mumbai residence, Silver Oak, after which they spoke to reporters gathered outside. Also present at the meeting was Banerjee’s nephew and TMC National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee.
Answering questions from reporters on whether she is looking to build a platform outside of the Congress-led UPA, Banerjee said, “We are saying that people should fight on the ground. What is UPA? There is no UPA now.”
Pawar was more cautious in his response and said, “What is clear is, those who are against BJP, they are welcome. There is no talk of leaving anyone behind. The talk is about taking everyone together and for that we will take any person who works hard with us.”
The NCP is in alliance with the Shiv Sena and the Congress in Maharashtra, as part of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi.
On Banerjee’s first day in the city Tuesday, the West Bengal CM had met Shiv Sena leaders Aaditya Thackeray and Sanjay Raut. While Banerjee had also sought a meeting with Shiv Sena president and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, it could not materialise as the latter is still in hospital recovering from a spine surgery that he underwent last month.
After his meeting with the West Bengal CM, Aaditya Thackeray said his father and Mamata Banerjee had a “different relation” that will “naturally be taken forward”.
‘How will you do politics if you are abroad half the time?’
The Trinamool Congress has been trying to expand its national presence and influence, and positioning itself as a party that can be instrumental in weaving together an alliance of like-minded opposition parties. It’s ambitions, however, come at the cost of the Congress’ position as the primary opposition party at the national level.
In July, during her visit to Delhi, Mamata Banerjee had called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, along with an array of leaders from other opposition parties. However, the TMC’s chemistry with the Congress has changed since then, with close aides of the Gandhi family defecting to the TMC.
Earlier this week, the TMC also boycotted a meeting of opposition parties called by the Congress to strategise for the Winter Session of the Parliament.
Earlier Wednesday, at Mamata Banerjee’s meet with members of the civil society in Mumbai, the West Bengal CM directly targeted the Congress and said, “Where Congress is not fighting the battles, there BJP is growing. We will not let that happen.”
She added: “If you’re powerful and you’re not doing anything on one hand and you’re not letting me do anything, I will not let that happen.”
Banerjee also took a veiled dig at Rahul Gandhi, without naming the Congress leader. “If you’re in a foreign country half the time, how will you do politics? Politics needs your 24X7 dedication,” she said.
In 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs had submitted data in Parliament, stating that since 2015, Rahul Gandhi had travelled abroad 247 times.
No comments on who will lead opposition alliance
Pawar said his meeting with Banerjee had been to discuss how “like-minded forces should come together at the national level, set up a collective leadership platform and prove an alternative to the BJP for the 2024 election”.
“Who is the leader (of such a platform) is not an important issue. The primary issue is to provide an alternative to people that they can trust. Who will be its leader is secondary,” Pawar added.
A Maharashtra Congress leader who did not wish to be named said, “Our intention was to form this particular government (MVA) for a specific reason. At this moment at least, the alliance doesn’t extend beyond Maharashtra by default. Every party has its own say. Also, we have been saying that if the Shiv Sena wants to speak about UPA, it has to be in UPA first.”
The Congress leader added: “However much TMC might try, I don’t think it has a lot of presence in the national arena. At the national level, we (the Congress) are trying to see how to bring together opposition parties and the meeting called by Mallikarjun Kharge (meeting of opposition parties before Parliament’s winter session) was a step in that direction. Our allies will have to decide whether they want to be a part of this effort.”
Pawar’s efforts for an opposition alliance
Pawar is historically known to have ushered in the era of coalition politics in Maharashtra. The leader is known to have cordial relations with regional parties, and political allies as well as adversaries.
He had tried to orchestrate an opposition alliance at the Centre during the 2019 Lok Sabha election too. However, the BJP’s overwhelming victory and the NCP’s crushing defeat in its home state of Maharashtra, where it won just four seats of the 19 it contested, had dashed Pawar’s hopes.
Ever since the TMC’s victory against the BJP in the West Bengal polls earlier this year, there have been talks of like-minded regional parties pooling in their strength ahead of the 2024 polls, and Pawar’s role is said to be crucial for this. After the West Bengal election, NCP’s Nawab Malik had told reporters that Pawar was doing the work of uniting opposition parties before the West Bengal polls and will continue to work towards their unity in the next few days.
In June, Pawar met poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who has been advising the TMC in expanding its presence nationally, three times in a fortnight.
There had been talks of a meeting between Banerjee and Pawar in July too. Pawar had also said at the time that he was likely to meet the West Bengal CM, but a meeting did not materialise.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)