Mamata admitting Congress leaders may hurt ‘united Opposition’ talks

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Former All India Mahila Congress President and close aide of Rahul Gandhi, Sushmita Dev, has left the party and joined the Trinamool Congress. This is the third big exit of young leaders from the party after Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitin Prasada.

Young leaders are leaving the Congress due to many reasons, including bleak prospects of the party, indifference of the top leadership and lack of career progression. Sidelined in her home state of Assam, Sushmita Dev had expressed anguish over ticket distribution during the assembly polls earlier this year.

While most leaders leaving the Congress join the Bharatiya Janata Party, Sushmita has joined not the Opposition but the ostensibly friendly party Trinamool Congress. This has raised many eyebrows. After all, the Gandhis share an excellent rapport with Mamata.

Mamata, the West Bengal Chief Minister, had met Sonia Gandhi during her recent Delhi visit and held talks about putting up a united front against the BJP in 2024. After the loss in Bengal, the BJP had alleged that the Congress party transferred its minority votes to Trinamool to defeat the saffron party. Congress drew a blank in the Assembly polls.

As per reports, Sushmita may be announced as the chief ministerial candidate of Trinamool for Tripura where elections are due in 2023.

The turn of events has raised suspicion in Congress circles and may impact the plans of a joint Opposition.

Buoyed by its big win in Bengal, TMC is nurturing bold and ambitious national plans. It has given a clarion call to the BJP of khela hobe for the 2024 general elections. The party feels Mamata now has a natural claim on the prime ministerial candidate position of a joint Opposition.

While TMC leaders have attended most joint Opposition meetings, they have also been lately charting their own course of action. The TMC leaders reached much ahead of the opposition led by Rahul Gandhi to meet the farmers at the Jantar Mantar protest.

On August 12, 11 Opposition parties, including the Congress, NCP, DMK, Shiv Sena, Rashtriya Janata Dal, and Samajwadi Party, had assembled outside Parliament to protest against the monsoon session being adjourned two days ahead of schedule and the alleged manhandling of women MPs in the Rajya Sabha on the last day.

The TMC did not join the protest.

When asked about these incidents and their united fight against the Modi-Shah combine, Saugata Roy TMC leader said, “We are friends but we can be ahead of you."

He added that the Congress is definitely required in opposition unity but they cannot call the shots. They are welcome as co-warriors but everything cannot go in their direction.

The TMC is all for opposition unity, but at the same time the party should not be taken for granted by opposition parties, and it should not be assumed that the party will attend all Opposition unity events, senior party leaders said at a press conference in the Capital. They added that

Trinamool does not believe in one-upmanship… it believes in unity.

While the TMC wants to be part of a united Opposition alliance it is non-committal on the issue of leadership, more so to let Congress lead the alliance. Mamata considers herself senior to Rahul.

Party strategists feel Rahul doesn’t have it in him to take on Modi in 2024, more so, after two successive losses.

TMC doesn’t want to jeopardise its chances by accepting leadership of Congress and/or Rahul. The TMC also was perhaps rattled by Rahul leading the show of opposition protests both inside and outside the Parliament during the monsoon session.

Most regional parties are in agreement that any front without the Congress is not viable. Also, Mamata can’t be left out. That is why TMC needs to be careful while inducting leaders from the same Opposition parties it wishes to form a grand alliance with. It could create tension and mistrust and lead to breakdown of talks, thus benefiting the BJP.

It would have been wiser if TMC checked with Sonia, informed her of Sushmita’s joining and took a no-objection of sorts from her before proceeding.

TMC has every right to be ambitious and draw plans for expansion beyond Bengal. However, poaching/admitting leaders from the main opposition party can undo all the work done in recent months to bring regional parties opposed to BJP on a common platform.

The party cannot cross 50 seats in the Lok Sabha even if it sweeps Bengal and North Eastern states. It needs to tread with caution!

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