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As AAP’s Kejriwal eyes bigger role, TMC says ‘Mamata has no national aspirations’ after Goa loss

After AAP’s sweep of Punjab, TMC seems to be taking a more conciliatory attitude towards AAP as it aims to form anti-BJP front for 2024. Unclear if Congress will be included.

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Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee doesn’t have “national aspirations” and only wants to bring like-minded parties together to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders have said, after the party’s high-profile campaign in the Goa assembly polls failed to bear fruit.

This comes in the backdrop of the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) overwhelming victory in Punjab and its convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal declaring his national ambitions at a victory rally in Delhi. “Inquilab (revolution) came to Delhi first and then happened in Punjab. This revolution will spread across the country,” Kejriwal said Thursday.  

However, this didn’t stop Mamata from taking aim at the Congress. On Friday, she called for an opposition coalition without the Congress. “Nothing will work if we depend on the Congress. They are losing their capability. All the regional parties now have to come together and work,” she said while addressing a press conference at the West Bengal Vidhan Sabha.

The Delhi CM was conspicuous by his silence when Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao and Mamata were holding consultations with non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA), non-Congress parties for a joint front last month. 

AAP was not included in these plans, and the party was also said to be upset with Mamata for contesting elections in Goa, where it has been trying to emerge as a viable alternative.

The TMC’s Goa venture has fizzled out, with the party securing a little over 5 per cent of the votes but failing to open its account. AAP, however, made its debut in the Goa assembly with two MLAs. With two states under his belt, analysts believe that Kejriwal is now likely to project AAP as the national alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.

After Thursday’s verdict, the TMC appeared to be conciliatory towards AAP. “Mamata Banerjee doesn’t have any national aspirations. She has initiated a move to bring like-minded parties together,” TMC MP Sukhendu Shekhar Roy told ThePrint.  

He added, “We will see now if Arvind Kejriwal joins the anti-BJP parties to take on the BJP.”

Speaking about the Congress, West Bengal minister and senior TMC leader Firhad Hakim had told reporters Thursday, “The Congress is a grand old party but it’s failing to strike. It should merge with the TMC.” 

But state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that this was merely the minister’s opinion and that the Congress would make no such moves. He slammed the TMC, accusing it of consistently training its guns at his party since the 2021 Bengal assembly polls.

Also read: Mamata leaves Congress out as she dials Opposition leaders for meeting of non-NDA CMs

Goa setback

The TMC was hailed as a giant-slayer for its victory in the 2021 Bengal assembly elections, with the help of political aide Prashant Kishor and the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) in the face of an all-out campaign by the BJP.

However, this team has not been able to make such an impact outside West Bengal. Be it in the Tripura civic polls last year or the Goa state elections, the TMC got one and zero seats, respectively, although it did win 24 per cent of the vote in Tripura.  

For now, the party is engaged in tamping down expectations. A day before the results, Mamata Banerjee virtually accepted defeat at a party programme in Kolkata and said, “If we had more time to prepare, our performance would have been better. We were there for three months but we reached every home in Goa.”

Bishwanath Ghosh, a political analyst and professor of political science and professor at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata, called the TMC’s “Goa project” a “complete failure”.

“The TMC was unable to put up candidates in all the seats, and a few MLAs went back to their old parties after joining the TMC. It also failed to bring the Goa Forward Party on board. The Goa elections have been a failure for both Mamata and Abhishek,” said Ghosh, referring to Mamata’s nephew, TMC national general secretary and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee, who spearheaded the campaign in Goa.

He added, “I don’t see the TMC’s ‘all-India’ project really bearing any fruit. And with the Congress’s poor performance, it will be even tougher for the opposition — which includes the TMC.”

Uniting the opposition

Speaking to ThePrint, Partha Pratim Roy, a professor at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, said the Opposition has a tough fight ahead given the results, but added that any such fight would be impossible without the Congress. 

“If you see Goa’s results, opposition parties such as AAP, the TMC, and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), ate into Congress’ vote bank, which evidently helped the BJP. But the bigger challenge now for Mamata Banerjee will be Arvind Kejriwal, who has formed governments in two states, while the TMC only has Bengal in its kitty. So, it is natural for Kejriwal now to aspire to be the principal opposition leader,” he said.

Echoing Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh told ThePrint that while Mamata Banerjee didn’t want to be the face of the “united opposition”, it is her experience that will help the anti-BJP parties take on Modi in 2024. 

“We need a viable alternative since the Congress has failed. Mamata Banerjee is sticking her neck out and has made some excellent suggestions, like the need for a steering committee, a common minimum programme and a structure within the opposition to fight the BJP,” said Ghosh.

As for Kejriwal, Ghosh said, “Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal have a cordial relationship and we don’t see any change in this. The bond is strong and will be an advantage for the opposition.”

Ghosh, however, sought to play down excitement over AAP’s triumph in Punjab, saying, “There was no one in Punjab to fight the BJP except Arvind Kejriwal, and that’s why their performance was better. If we had contested in Punjab, even we would have done well,” he said.

TMC national vice president Pawan Verma told ThePrint, “We need to go back to the drawing board and re-strategise to synthesise our strengths. There is a clear opposition void in the Hindi heartland and there is very little time for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.” 

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: After decimating traditional parties to emerge as Punjab’s new No.1, AAP now eyes national role


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