Angry Trinamool keeps away from Congress; truce unlikely before Lok Sabha polls

Trinamool sources blame the distancing on Congress’ reluctance to speedily conclude the seat sharing arrangement, its truck with the Left and local Congress leader, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, refusing to cease his relentless attack on Mamata Banerjee.
Last Updated 05 March 2024, 09:45 IST

New Delhi: Last year in March, Trinamool Congress was keeping away from Opposition meetings convened by Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge to discuss Parliament strategy. It was not part of the Opposition bloc that was demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the Adani affair, “finding it futile”.

But bitterness made way for cooperation as Rahul Gandhi got disqualified from Lok Sabha late March. Trinamool felt the “BJP crossed a line” and deputed its MPs Prasoon Banerjee and Jawahar Sircar for meetings called by Kharge in Parliament and later a dinner meeting at his residence.

Trinamool seniors Sudip Bandhyopadhyay and Derek O’Brien, regular faces at such meetings, were not there but Mamata Banerjee was giving indications that she was ready to do business again with the bloc.

Now, matters have come full circle with the past year witnessing twists and turns in Congress-TMC relations with both sides appearing to be at extreme odds in West Bengal.

Trinamool sources blame it on Congress’ reluctance to speedily conclude the seat sharing arrangement, its truck with the Left and local Congress leader, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, refusing to cease his relentless attack on Mamata Banerjee.

The ball was set rolling for a larger alliance when JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar took over as the unofficial coordinator to bring unity among the Opposition. After initial discussions with Kharge and Rahul Gandhi, his first stop was Kolkata in April last year where Mamata urged him to hold the first meeting in Patna.

There were reservations about Congress taking the driving seat but she was equally wary of Nitish and indicated to her close aides about the ambitions of the Bihar Chief Minister, who eventually quit the bloc.

Trinamool also did not pull back from taking an independent path to affirm its position in the state, much to the discomfort of some of the allies. It did not wait for a joint statement of the Opposition bloc it was part of and instead, went ahead to individually announce the party's decision to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building.

It also poached Congress’ lone MLA in West Bengal, who won the Sagardighi bypolls, as leaders put their heads together ahead of Patna meet.

One not known to pull back its punches, Trinamool stepped up pressure before the meeting in Patna on June 23 last year, saying it will not support the Congress nationally, if it allies with the Left in Bengal.

Three days after the meeting, Mamata again accused the Congress and Left of playing second fiddle to the BJP in Bengal.

Trinamool’s rhetoric was threatening the Bengaluru meeting on July 17-18 but it eventually saw Congress and Trinamool on the same page. The bloc got its name I.N.D.I.A. after Rahul Gandhi asked his close aide, KC Venugopal, to reach out to Mamata through Derek O’Brien. The leaders burnt the midnight oil to make the I.N.D.I.A. coalition bloc a reality.

The next day when the leaders met, Mamata suggested the name I.N.D.I.A. – as agreed by Rahul and Trinamool chief – and Rahul passionately argued why it is the most apt name. Despite opposition from leaders like Nitish who wanted the name ‘India Main Front’ (IMF), they managed to seal it.

Leaders started talking about Congress moving closer to Trinamool much to the discomfort of the Left, a reliable ally at the national level. The Left too was upset.

But the third meeting in Mumbai saw Trinamool drifting away from the Congress as the latter refused to put a deadline on sealing the seat sharing exercise. A day before the meet, Rahul had a meeting with Trinamool’s heir apparent Abhishek Banerjee.

Trinamool sources said the meeting indicated to them that Congress was under the spell of the Left and was not keen on an alliance with them. In the meantime, uneasiness was growing among the I.N.D.I.A. bloc over Congress-induced inaction due to its preoccupation with the Assembly polls.

However when the Assembly results did not go its way, Congress again sought to snatch the initiative and called a meeting on December 6, three days after the results came. Leaders like Mamata were not willing to play ball and the Congress rescheduled the meet to December 19.

At the meeting, Mamata stumped leaders by suggesting that Kharge should be declared the face of I.N.D.I.A. group. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too supported her, but an astute Kharge made it clear that it was not the right time to discuss it.

Before Mamata’s intervention, O’Brien made a pitch at the meeting that they have lost six months and now they should seal the seat deals by December 31. There was no agreement, as it marked the start of Trinamool’s official dissociation with Congress in Bengal though it remained with the I.N.D.I.A. bloc.

Mamata was waiting for an opportune time to hit back and she served the punch just before Rahul Gandhi’s Bhart Jodo Nyay Yatra entered Bengal. She announced on January 24 that Trinamool will not leave a single seat to Congress. Only days before, Rahul had waxed eloquent about his good relations with Mamata.

Congress did not escalate the situation with its General Secretary (Communications) Jairam Ramesh saying that the negotiations were still on. The yatra also ran into trouble in various parts of Bengal right after the tense trek through BJP-ruled Assam, as Mamata wanted to send a strong signal.

Congress appeared to woo Trinamool with a suggestion that it was willing to sacrifice one of the two seats for an alliance in West Bengal but last heard, Mamata is not willing to have any truck with the party, nationally or in West Bengal.

(Published 05 March 2024, 09:45 IST)

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