New Delhi: As the winter session of Parliament commences, a keenly anticipated dynamic is the one amongst Opposition parties on the floor of the House in the coming days.
At a meeting of Opposition parties called by the Congress before the session Monday, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were conspicuous by their absence. Both parties, led by Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal respectively, have in the recent past tried to project themselves as the “Opposition face that can replace the Congress,” and have said that they “would not need to coordinate with the Congress on the floor of the House”.
In a list circulated by the Congress’s media team, 10 Opposition parties attended the meeting called by Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge. The Congress’s interim president Sonia Gandhi and MP Rahul Gandhi were also present.
The parties that attended the meeting are Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M), Communist Party of India (CPI), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD), National Conference (NC) and Revolutionalist Socialist Party (RSP).
Signing the register
While the TMC and AAP giving the meeting a miss was expected, the Shiv Sena’s absence raised questions. The Sena, along with the NCP, are alliance partners with the Congress in Maharashtra and form the ruling government there.
When asked, Shiv Sena sources said that while the party’s leader in Lok Sabha, Sanjay Raut, gave the meeting a miss because of his daughter’s wedding, their leader in Rajya Sabha, Vinayak Raut, was “very much present”.
Congress sources later clarified that Vinayak had appeared for the meeting, but had “forgotten to sign on the entry register”.
“He (Vinayak Raut) had appeared for the meeting but had maybe forgotten to sign his name in the entry register. As a rule, we (the Congress) do not publicly count any party or member as being a part of a meeting till they sign on the entry register. There is no political motive to this”, a Congress source aware of the developments told ThePrint.
AAP against ‘sharing platform’
AAP sources, meanwhile, said that they would not be coordinating with the Congress “when they are fighting them in a state going to poll”.
“We are trying to position ourselves in Goa as an alternative to the Congress. With elections barely three months away, we cannot be seen as sharing a platform with them”, said an AAP source.
ThePrint tried to reach AAP MP Sanjay Singh through phone calls, but did not receive a response till the time of publishing this report.
The TMC was the only party that had declared that it would skip the Monday meeting.
The party was thereafter not a signatory to a joint statement by leaders of Opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha, which condemned the suspension of 12 MPs from the House. The AAP and the Shiv Sena signed the statement, along with the Congress. Interestingly, so did the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), given that it has, in the past, supported the BJP on various issues. It, however, did speak up against the three farm laws passed by the Modi government.
Two TMC MPs, Dola Sen and Shanta Chhetri, were among the 12 suspended.
‘Congress not our electoral ally’
The slew of Congress leaders joining the TMC, as the party expands across the country, has had many questioning if the party is trying to project itself as an alternative to the Congress and lead Opposition parties against the BJP.
There is also discussion about whether Mamata Banerjee wants to project herself as the prime ministerial face of the Opposition for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and take PM Modi head on.
Given all this, can the Opposition unite on the floor of the House?
TMC’s leader in Rajya Sabha, Derek O’Brien, said in a statement that the Opposition will unify on “common issues”.
“I also must point out that there is a distinction between the RJD, DMK, CPI and the CPI(M)—they are all electoral allies of the Congress. The NCP-Shiv Sena and JMM (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha) run a government with the Congress. The Congress is not our electoral ally, nor are we running a government with them. That’s the difference,” said O’Brien.
‘We are more Congress than the Congress’
A source in the TMC, corroborating O’Brien’s statement, said that the party did not want to directly challenge the Congress, but wanted to be seen as “first movers” amongst the Opposition on issues that will come up in Parliament.
“When Mamata came to power in 2011, many said that the TMC is more Left than the Left. We didn’t have to spell that out. The party’s conduct and the issues that it took up spoke for us. Now we are trying to prove that we are more Congress than the Congress”, said the source.
This line of narrative is borne out by the fact that parties like the TMC, NCP, YSR Congress had all emerged from the Congress and now hold reasonable clout in their geographic areas of influence.
In fact, in September, an edition of the Trinamool’s mouthpiece, Jago Bangla, called the party the “real Congress”.
“If the TMC is the real Congress in Bengal today, tomorrow the TMC will play the role of the real Congress nationally. It’s not a matter of ego. There is no complexity. The people want an all-out fight against the BJP and the Congress has failed to carry out its responsibilities”, the Jago Bangla editorial had said, while harping on the fact that the TMC was “built on the heritage of the Gandhis”.
Respond when required: Congress
On the other hand, the Congress has decided to respond “to the TMC only when it is required”.
“If you see, our leaders Rahul Gandhi or even Priyanka Gandhi have not said anything about the TMC. Even our spokespersons only react when there’s a defection or something similar. We will only react when we are required to. Won’t attack the TMC without reason,” a Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity.
“While the TMC is poaching our MLAs and electorally fighting us, it is also helping consolidate a certain section which now believes that they are the BJP’s B-Team. If we launch an all-out attack against them, our position as BJP being our main opposition may be compromised,” the leader said.
Therefore, as the TMC skipped the Monday meeting before the Parliament session, the Congress said that they’ll still try to convince them to join with all other Opposition parties and present a united front.
“We invite every party in the Opposition for exchange of views before the start of Parliament, but it is up to them (TMC) whether to attend or not,” Congress leader in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said to ANI before Monday’s meeting.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)