New Delhi: West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee has been actively trying to expand her party’s footprint beyond the state and present herself as a prominent face of a unified Opposition against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre.
Not only has the TMC been trying to forge alliances and preparing to contest elections in the Northeast and Goa, but the party has been on an induction spree — with many former members of the Congress and other parties joining the TMC.
Despite Banerjee’s efforts to project the TMC and herself as the unifying factor in the Opposition against the BJP, however, many prominent regional political parties — that are not part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) — are as yet hesitant to respond to the West Bengal CM’s call for Opposition unity ahead of the 2024 general elections.
Guarded in their approach to the idea of a Mamata Banerjee-led Opposition, most of them are choosing not to comment on the matter as yet, or refraining from voicing a clear decision at this point.
Senior leaders and functionaries of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP), who have been vocal in their support of Banerjee during election campaigns or during the TMC’s stand-offs with the BJP-led Union government, are still reluctant to follow her leadership for Opposition unity.
Much of their hesitancy has to do with the possibility of the Congress not being part of the Mamata-led Opposition. While some doubt if such an alliance can at all be formed, a few others have an alliance with the party in their state and are as yet torn between their loyalties to the Congress and their hopes of presenting a unified Opposition to the BJP in 2024.
But as a regional party leader, who did not wish to be identified, claimed, “The Congress pegged around 20 per cent vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. We are not sure if they can be dismissed just like that. They have a strong presence in several states.”
‘Opposition should not be centred around one person’
“We need an alternative programme to defeat the BJP, I agree. And it should not be centred around one person. We have seen what personality-based politics (referring to PM Narendra Modi) has done to us,” RJD spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha told ThePrint Sunday.
He added: “There has to be a lot of groundwork and discussions in the days to come for such an alternative programme.” The RJD is yet to take a stand on Banerjee’s call for Opposition unity against the BJP.
The SP, meanwhile, cited next year’s assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh as the reason for the party’s current silence on Opposition unity for 2024.
“She (Banerjee) is an old ally of our party. She is an important figure in the Opposition. But at this point, we are only focused on the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh,” Samajwadi Party MP and spokesperson Juhie Singh said Sunday.
The explanation was echoed by a senior BSP leader who did not wish to be identified. “Right now, we are focused only on the upcoming elections (Uttar Pradesh). We can later take a call on her (Banerjee’s) appeal for a united Opposition,” the leader said.
Other parties said their leadership was yet to take a call on the matter.
“The top leadership has not said anything on the issue. So, it won’t be appropriate to comment on it at this stage,” DMK’s Rajya Sabha MP Tiruchi Siva said.
A senior TDP functionary who did not wish to be identified also said they have “decided not to speak on this issue now”.
Meanwhile, Aam Aadmi Party Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh told ThePrint Sunday, “In a democracy, every party has the right to expand. We should not be commenting on her (Banerjee’s) strategies.”
The AAP is also attempting to expand its reach beyond Delhi and gearing up for the upcoming elections in UP, Goa and Punjab.
During a visit to Delhi in July, the West Bengal CM had indicated that doors were open for parties such as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) to join a unified Opposition. While these parties are not part of the NDA, they are perceived to be friendly with the BJP.
Talking to ThePrint Sunday, BJD Rajya Sabha member Sujit Kumar said, “We have not taken any decision on this matter yet. We shall do what is best for the state (Odisha).”
A senior leader of the YSRCP who did not wish to be identified said: “We should comment on the issue only after the top leadership says anything. As of now, it has not.”
Changing equation with the Congress
Banerjee had initiated attempts to rally the Opposition forces and expand the TMC’s influence beyond Bengal soon after the party’s landslide victory in the West Bengal assembly elections in May this year.
In July, the West Bengal CM visited Delhi to meet leaders of Opposition parties, including Congress members Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Four months later, on another visit to Delhi in November, Banerjeee met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and several Opposition leaders but skipped meeting the two top leaders of the Congress.
While on this visit, 12 Congress MLAs in Meghalaya joined the TMC, adding to the bitterness between the two parties. Banerjee also welcomed the Congress’ Kirti Azad and Ashok Tanwar to the party at the same time.
Soon after, while talking to reporters after a meeting with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar in Mumbai last week, Mamata said, “What is UPA? There is no UPA now.” The West Bengal CM had also met Shiv Sena leaders Aaditya Thackeray and Sanjay Raut during her Mumbai trip last week.
Sources in one of the parties, privy to the details of her meeting with Pawar, told ThePrint that Banerjee mostly sought his help in forming a stronger Opposition against the BJP, without explicitly positioning herself as the face of that Opposition.
In his weekly column in Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana, Rajya Sabha MP Raut wrote Sunday that Banerjee seems to be looking at creating an anti-BJP front, while excluding the Congress from it.
He added that the TMC was not considering a political foray into Maharashtra, as the Shiv Sena and the NCP are effectively standing up to the might of the BJP in the state. “It seems that she is thinking of doing something new minus the Congress,” he wrote, even though he did not clearly specify his party’s stand on Banerjee’s national ambitions.
Earlier, NCP leader Nawab Malik had ruled out the possibility of a united Opposition without the Congress and said that differences between the TMC and the Congress can eventually be sorted out. An editorial in Saamana had also slammed Banerjee’s “No UPA” remark.
The Shiv Sena and the NCP are in an alliance with the Congress in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)