New Delhi/Kolkata: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi trained his gun on the Trinamool Congress (TMC) Wednesday at a poll rally in Meghalaya, accusing the Mamata Banerjee-led party of helping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“You know the history of the TMC. You know the violence that happens in Bengal. You know about the scams. The Saradha scam which took place. They came to Goa and spent huge amounts of money. The idea was to help the BJP. In Meghalaya, too, the TMC’s idea is to help BJP,” Rahul told a Congress rally in Shillong.
Coming a day after Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge’s pitch for a united opposition led by his party in the Lok Sabha polls, Rahul’s direct attack on the TMC comes at a time when both sides are projecting themselves as the strongest opposition party to spearhead the 2024 fight against Narendra Modi and the BJP.
Opposition alliances before the 2024 polls will be up for discussion in the Congress’ three-day plenary session beginning 24 February in Raipur. In the past stressing on the need for an united opposition, the party has been unclear on whether or not it would be ready to play a secondary role in such an alliance.
Hours later after Rahul’s attack, TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee lashed out at the Congress saying that it has “failed to resist” the BJP. “Irrelevance, incompetence and insecurity” has put the party in a “state of delirium”, he added.
“By the same logic, when Congress contested 92 seats in Bengal Elections in 2021, was their idea to help the BJP? Rahul Gandhi’s statements is pretty rich, especially coming from a party that has lost 40 out of the last 45 Assembly Elections in India (sic),” he tweeted.
At an election rally in Nagaland Tuesday, Kharge had said that the Congress was in talks with other parties on the issue of alliances, and added that it would lead such an alliance if it was formed.
“In 2024, the alliance government will come to (power in) the Centre. The Congress will lead. We are talking with other parties. Because otherwise democracy and the Constitution will go. Therefore, with every party now and then we are calling, we are talking, we are sharing our views on how to win 2024,” Kharge had said. “Therefore, the BJP will not get a majority. Some people say they will not get a majority. All other parties together, of course, the Congress will lead and we will get the majority. We will follow the Constitution. We will follow democracy.”
Both Meghalaya and Nagaland will poll on 27 February. Results will be out on 2 March.
In Meghalaya, the Congress was ousted from its position as the principal opposition in 2021 when in an overnight coup, former chief minister Mukul Sangma joined the TMC with 12 of the party’s 17 MLAs.
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Tag of Bengali party
The TMC has been trying to work on strengthening its organisation in Meghalaya. Trinamool chairperson Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek have been extensively campaigning in the poll-bound state. They held a padyatra, leaders’ convention and even celebrated Christmas in the hills.
In December last year, Mamata handed over ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh each to the victims of the Assam-Meghalaya border clash which reportedly claimed six lives.
Meghalaya gives the TMC its best chance so far to win outside Bengal and Mukul Sangma has been made the Chief Ministerial face for the polls. Unlike Goa, where it had only five months to garner support, the TMC has been camping for over a year in the Northeast state..
Senior leaders Manas Bhunia and Derek O’Brien, who were given the responsibility to ensure a strong support base for the TMC, have been spending time in Meghalaya in the run up to the polls.
Trinamool insiders told ThePrint that the party has better electoral chances in Meghalaya than neighbouring Tripura which voted on 16 February.
The TMC is fighting on all 60 Assembly seats in Meghalaya, where the ruling National People’s Party (NPP) is looking to retain power. The BJP, which was running the government with the NPP, is going solo in the election after a fallout.
The Congress on the other hand, say party sources, is looking to do better in Tripura where in an alliance with the Left, it is contesting just 13 seats. However, the entire top leadership — Kharge, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — were missing from the campaign scene in Tripura.
Congress leaders from Meghalaya told ThePrint that the TMC is gaining ground in Jantia and Garo regions, in spite of being perceived as a “Bengali party” — a political disadvantage in the state where ethnic lines are sharply drawn.
To connect with the indigenous people of Khasi, Jantia and Garo Hills, the TMC in its vision document for Meghalaya has promised to revoke the border Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Assam. It assured to set up an expert panel for studying and resolving the demand for implementing the Inner Line Permit.
The opposition party has also promised more jobs, monthly allowance for unemployed youth, job cards for those engaged in the tourism sector, monthly allowance for women and financial assistance for farmers, if elected to power.
“Ours is not a Bengali-only party, I work for all of India,” Mamata said at a rally in December to shed the “outsider” tag, something which her party labelled at the BJP in the Bengal electoral battle.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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