Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will not have any political alignment with Sonia Gandhi-led Congress, in Bengal or even nationally, over the CAA-NRC protest movement, top TMC leaders told ThePrint.
Congress leaders cannot be “relied upon”. Moreover, the TMC chief prefers talking to regional party heads, especially after the conviction with which she took to the streets to protest against the implementation of CAA and NRC, said two TMC leaders who are part of the party’s core seven-member leadership.
Banerjee is facing criticism for promoting “disunity” among opposition after she decided to boycott an all-opposition party meet on the contentious law CAA and the proposed NRC to be chaired by the Congress president in the national capital on 13 January.
The West Bengal CM has distanced herself from any anti-CAA and NRC stir by these parties, either in the state or outside, citing “dirty and cheap politics” by the Left and Congress.
The TMC chief’s sharp and straight call to “boycott and alienate” the Congress is also linked to poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s growing influence over her, said senior Congress leaders on condition of anonymity.
Not ceding space in West Bengal
Speaking to ThePrint, a senior TMC leader and a former Union minister called Mamata Banerjee’s decision to boycott the meet an “excellent call” by an “ace politician”.
“She has always been at the forefront of the anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests. But Congress did not take the issue seriously,” said the leader.
“At a time, when Rahul Gandhi should have been helming the protests, he was nowhere to be seen. It was Mamata Banerjee who started it with so much power and political passion. Later, Left parties mobilised some student movements and that is all,” he added.
The TMC leader asked, “What exactly has Congress done?
“On 13 January, Congress will again try to hijack the movement claiming it as their own. Why should our leader fall prey to such ‘credit taking’ politics?” this leader questioned.
For Banerjee, it is all about principle and conviction rather than “vote-bank politics”, he added.
TMC sources, however, said Banerjee had initially confirmed her presence with the leader in-charge of coordination for the 13 January meet. Later, she changed her decision in view of the changing equations due to the state assembly elections next year.
“We do not have any alliance with the Congress, in any form. At present, we are concerned about state elections. And it is always better for Banerjee to maintain equal distance from the Left and Congress,” a second senior TMC leader said.
The Congress and Left had allied in the 2016 Bengal assembly polls. However, the two parties couldn’t form an alliance ahead of the 2019 general elections.
“Our stand and programmes in the Parliament also show our strategy. Congress voted against abrogation of Article 370, but we walked out. These are all calculated moves. When the NRC and CAA protest started no Congress chief minister openly boycotted this, until she took the lead,” said the second leader.
The TMC does not need Congress’ help to win elections in Bengal. No wonder, Banerjee is calling the Left and Congress “signboard parties”, said the second leader.
The Prashant Kishor factor
The change in Mamata Banerjee’s stand is also due to her poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who is advising her on the state polls, said leaders in the Congress who didn’t wish to be named.
Kishor has time and again attacked Congress for hibernating during the anti-CAA and NRC protests across the country over the last two months.
Commenting on Sonia Gandhi’s appeal for standing up against Modi government’s contentious policies on citizenship, Kishor had tweeted on 21 December, “Congress is not on streets and its top leadership has been largely absent in the citizens’ fight against CAA-NRC. The least party could do it to make ALL Congress CMs join other CMs who have said that they will not allow NRC in their states. Or else these statements means nothing (sic).”
Non-BJP chief ministers had initially chosen to remain silent on the implementation of CAA and NRC in their states. However, following Banerjee’s protests, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh became the first Congress CM to announce that he won’t allow CAA-NRC in his state. Kishor had worked as Singh’s poll strategist during the 2017 Punjab assembly elections.
After Mamata Banerjee refused to join Gandhi’s meeting, Abdul Mannan, leader of the Congress legislative party in West Bengal assembly, called TMC as the “B team of BJP”.
However, speaking to ThePrint, a senior Congress leader said her ‘go-alone’ formula works for his party too.
“It is her decision. We as a national party invited all to join. But she decided to stay away, which is fine. Since elections are approaching, she is trying to maintain a distance from the Left-Congress alliance,” said a leader who is part of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) team.
“AICC did not seek any explanation from the party’s state unit as Banerjee blamed it for inciting violence during the strike (in Bengal),” said the leader.
Adding that the Left-Congress unity will of course hit BJP hard in the state elections, the Congress leader said, “The vote share we got in 2019 without having an alliance with the Left reveals how the anti-Trinamool votes went to BJP and some were divided between CPM and Congress.
“This time we too need a pitch for the Congress-Left alliance. Being with her politically damages our prospects too in Bengal.”