Mamata’s Diatribe Against Congress Jolts Opposition Unity, Puts BJP In Pole Position

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In a rather buoyant mood after trouncing the BJP in the much talked about assembly polls of West Bengal in 2021, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee  is now seeking to expand her party beyond her state to get an  an All India footprint .  And this sojourn  has begun with the party zeroing  on small states like  – Tripura, Meghalaya, Goa . The party’s Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien in a tweet clearly wrote about the party’s future goal , ‘We are a political party. We are not a football club, we have to fight elections, we have a right to expand.’

Having won the David vs Goliath battle with Modi- Shah led BJP , Mamata is exuding confidence and  hoping to emerge as a face of the opposition against Modi in 2024 General Elections  . However  as TMC wishes to expand , another party  – Congress is feeling the heat . Already battling to survive after  two successive General Election debacles in 2014 and 2019  and struggling to hold on to states which they are in power – Punjab and Rajasthan , the last thing they wanted  was an opposition party like TMC to rub more salt into their wounds.

Mamata’s meeting with Maratha stalwart and NCP Chief Sharad Pawar in Mumbai  and her statement – what is UPA? There is No UPA had stunned not only  the Congress. but political circles.   She took on not only the Congress but also took a dig at Rahul Gandhi’s frequent visits abroad when there are pressing matters at home.  Mamata had  all along maintained good ties with the Gandhi’s . This sudden turn around surprised many and questions asked why now? .

The No UPA jibe rattled the Congress leadership .  And they reacted sharply to Mamata’s charge . Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal tweeted, UPA Without the Congress , UPA will be a body without a soul Time to show opposition unity. Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who is the president of the West Bengal Congress Committee (WBCC), has alleged that Mamata Banerjee “wants to break and weaken” the Congress as well as the opposition by “becoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s informer”. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, as reported by news agency ANI, said, “Some people are only helping the ruling party at the Centre.” Another Congress leader , Congress MP Manickam Tagore alleged that the reason for Mamata’s sudden attack on the Congress is because of the ED raids on TMC leaders.

It may be recalled  that the Enforcement Directorate had grilled Mamata’s Nephew and party’s All India General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee, for almost nine hours in its probe related to money laundering worth ₹1,352 crore in illegal coal mining scandal in the state. Hence Congress leader Tagore’s charge is not without any reason. That is not all Abhishek’s wife Rujira Banerjee was issued summons by a Delhi Court after ED”s complaint . She apparently as the agency suspected intentionally lied to the agency since she had travelled to Delhi around the same time, but didn’t come in for questioning, citing the risk posed by Covid-19 pandemic. So was it the fear of seeing Abhishek in jail made Mamata do a dramatic U- turn on the Congress? Only time will tell.

States like – Punjab, Uttar Pradesh , Uttarakhand, Goa , Manipur go to assembly polls in 2002 and  Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat towards the the end of 2022. In all these states, Congress has a big stake unlike The TMC . Mamata’s assertion of  a weak Congress is bound have a fall- out . BJP would surely take off  from what Mamata had said about the Congress to put them on the back-foot. Mamata’s all -out war against Congress has given BJP the ammunition to target the Congress. It could well ask the voters why vote for  a party with whom even other opposition parties are wary aligning  with?  A bouncer Congress will find hard to duck.

With an insipid leadership at the helm, Congress seems to be going adrift .  And  not willing to take suggestions  is further hurting  the party. The Congress party’s lack of intent to take on the BJP on the front foot has forced the regional parties like the TMC, AAP, NCP, Shiv Sena to take center stage. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad in a  recent interview remarked what is wrong with the Congress , “The present generation of the Congress is not open to suggestions. If some senior members give one, it is seen as a crime or rebellion,” Azad said, adding that the advice of senior leaders should not be taken as an affront or challenge.

Though he did not take names the attack was clear – Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra ( Whose elevation as party’s General Secretary, in charge of Uttar Pradesh East despite not being a MLA nor  a MP has caused a disquiet within the Congress).

Azad is among  the G23 leaders  who had written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi last year, suggesting that the party must introspect on back-to-back electoral losses and come up with a new strategy. The group had also stressed on the need to democratise party processes, starting with organisational polls to elect a president. He further stated “It hurts when our advice is not heeded. We give suggestions for the overall improvement of the party. None of us wants any posts in the party. All we want is that the performance of the party should improve,” he said. “This is a time when the ruling party is strong and the Opposition is weak. A weak Opposition benefits the ruling party.”

Azad’s accepts  that opposition is weak ,  and now with Mamata’s diatribe against the Congress, the  chances  of a united opposition against Modi in 2024  has taken a beating at least  for now . Further taking a leaf out of Mamata’s attack on Congress, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Samajwadi party leader Akhilesh Yadav recently quipped that Congress might get zero seats in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls next year.

Hence in this battle for opposition space among the regional parties  puts the  BJP in pole position.  BJP in- fact would be smiling since  what they had often said about the Congress , UPA and Rahul Gandhi is now been endorsed by  Mamata Banerjee as well.

So for the Congress its is pertinent that they fare well in the forthcoming assembly polls slated in 2022. A good showing will enhance their position  as principal opposition party while a dismal show would further embolden TMC’s hopes of  replacing them. What is worrisome for the Congress though  is the  unending theatrics by Navjot Singh Sindhu in Punjab .  It could mar their chances of return to power and the Gandhi’s could well rue his appointment as PCC chief if they fail to win Punjab.

Having already lost Madhya Pradesh due to exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia, Assam by Himanta Biswa Sarma , the nail in the Congress coffin would be to see Capt Amarinder Singh becoming Chief Minister  this time with BJP support . Amarinder has hinted of tie- up with the BJP and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa’s party soon .

Moreover , Given the battle for seats all over the country , one can say  that Congress may be down but certainly not out.  The  exuberant TMC  would do well to pay heed to what former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister  and National Conference vice- president Omar Abdullah   wrote  about  the  crisis hit Congress party in his tweet , Ordinarily I wouldn’t give a toss about the fratricide in the Congress party – their party, their business. However what the Congress does has a direct fallout for every political party outside the NDA orbit because almost 200 Lok Sabha seats see a direct BJP – Cong fight.

So,  for the opposition dream of  unsettling the Modi in 2024, it  needs a pan India party like the Congress ( despite its flaws and poor election win record) , to bolster their hopes. Remember the magic number is 271 .  As  senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted , Don’t write off Cong just yet but if the party doesn’t reinvent itself soon, it will be trapped in ‘Nokia syndrome’.  In another tweet he wrote, UPA maybe ‘dead’ BUT Congress ZINDA hai!. In short ,  given the overall all India scenario and  the direct BJP vs Congress fight , to wish an opposition minus the Congress is simply not feasible .

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