State unit leaders want party to ally with Left front, accuse Trinamool Congress of trying to break Congress in the state.
New Delhi: The mahagathbandhan, or grand alliance, of opposition parties looks set for more turbulence ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, this time over regional fault-lines in West Bengal.
In the eye of a brewing storm are state-level Congress leaders, who are at odds with the party’s central leadership over allying with the Trinamool Congress for the Parliamentary elections.
While the top leadership of both parties have given enough indications of a possible tie-up — the Trinamool even extended support to the Congress during elections to the Rajya Sabha — the bonhomie has not percolated to the state level.
“I have been saying this in the past and I am saying it now. We have suffered the most under the Mamata Banerjee government,” Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary, West Bengal Congress president and party MP, told ThePrint. “The high command hasn’t asked my opinion on an alliance with any party in the state. I will offer my opinion when asked by the central leadership.”
The state Congress unit has, however, sent a report (on 13 June this year) to the high command, suggesting that the party ally with the Left, and not the Trinamool, in West Bengal.
The report, which has 21 suggestions, also called for a Facebook page for the state unit, a Twitter handle and urged the high command to create a network of 50,000 social media volunteers for the state.
The Congress central leadership has not yet taken a decision on the report.
Coincidentally, on the same day Congress president Rahul Gandhi hosted Trinamool leader Dinesh Trivedi at an iftar organised by the Congress, where both leaders interacted privately.
Dissent in the state
The Congress looks set to face a challenge in persuading its state leaders to align with the Trinamool, without which, the possibility of a nationwide grand alliance could crumble.
“We have been fighting on streets, exposing the state government and doing whatever an opposition party can do in the state,” says Chaudhary.
State leaders allege that the Trinamool is trying to break up the Congress in West Bengal.
“The Trinamool thinks it can win 35 seats by contesting alone (there are 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state). So, they haven’t talked to us. Rather, they are more interested in breaking the existing leaders of Congress in order to weaken the party further,” said Congress MP and senior state leader Pradeep Bhattacharya.
He also accused the Trinamool and the BJP of practicing similar strand of politics.
“Both are practising extreme politics that is dangerous for the state,” Bhattacharya said, adding that he has urged the Congress to ally with the Left parties.
Sources in the Congress told ThePrint that the party wants to strengthen its state unit, which has weakened over a decade. A decision on alliance would be taken later. Sources added that before the recent panchayat elections, the Congress leadership in Delhi was almost certain of tying up with the Trinamool, but was put off by the reports of violence and alleged election rigging by the party.
The Congress fears that in such an environment, it won’t find space in an alliance with the Trinamool.
The Congress’ new West Bengal in-charge, Gaurav Gogoi, in his first meeting with different party cells in the state clearly said the party will try to build the organisation.
“We will stand with the party workers against the atrocities against them and if they are arrested and sent to jail, we will go to the jail with them,” he said.
In the recent past, the Congress has allied with both the Trinamool and the Left in West Bengal. During the 2011 assembly elections, the Congress partnered with the Trinamool to defeat the Left Front government. But since the Trinamool won a majority on its own, the Congress was relegated to a supporting actor role.
In the 2016 elections, the Congress partnered with the Left Front in the state, and increased its seat tally from 42 to 44. But the Left Front slipped to 28 from 56 seats.
The dissent in the West Bengal Congress unit comes amid cracks appearing in the mahagathbandhan.
Earlier this month, the Congress stayed away when four chief ministers and prospective members of the grand alliance — Mamata Banerjee, Chandrababu Naidu, H.D. Kumaraswamy and Pinarayi Vijayan — came out in support of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in his feud with Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal.
As ThePrint reported, Congress president Rahul Gandhi is learnt to be opposed to any alliance with the AAP, which he holds responsible for the ouster of the UPA in 2014. The Congress is also not interested in any alliance with Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) of KC Chandrasekhar Rao, its principal adversaries in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, who is spearheading the national alliance against the BJP, is keen on accommodating all ‘like-minded’ parties.
Yet, despite these differences, the central leadership of the Congress and the Trinamool have given enough hints of a possible alliance.
In August 2017, the Trinamool announced its support for Congress’ Rajya Sabha candidate Pradeep Bhattacharya in the state. There was no election, however, as the nomination of Left candidate Bikash Bhattacharya was cancelled.
In March this year, the Trinamool once again extended support to Congress candidate Abhishek Manu Singhvi. Mamata could have easily sent one more Trinamool MP to the Rajya Sabha but she ensured that Singhvi won.
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