t should be music to the BJP’s ears the way Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee denied outright the existence of the Opposition alliance – the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) – and lambasted the Congress. Pouring water on the Opposition’s efforts to unite under the banner of the UPA in which the Congress has been playing a pivotal role, she even abrasively asked a rhetorical question to say the talk about the UPA is meaningless. The media sought to know from her, in the presence of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar in Mumbai last week, if the latter could be the UPA chairperson. Mamata in her audacious best wondered what Pawar could do in that position since the UPA is non-existent. She not only sent shockwaves to Opposition parties trying to put up a united front against the BJP in the 2024 general elections, but also caused huge embarrassment to Pawar who soon distanced himself from her remarks.
Explaining his position on the issue Pawar said “All those opposed to the BJP are welcome to join us and there is no question of excluding anyone.” His clarification came as the media asked him if an alliance without the Congress was on the cards. Pawar further underscored the need for all like-minded parties to come together and provide a strong alternative to the BJP. It is only understandable that Pawar would not countenance Mamata’s attack on the UPA and the Congress since the NCP is part of a triumvirate that makes up the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra along with the Congress and the Shiv Sena.
The Shiv Sena too sought to dismiss Mamata’s narrative that strikes at the root of Opposition unity against the BJP. It did not waste time and used its mouthpiece, Saamana of December 4, to criticise her attempt to sideline the Congress and project herself as the key face of the Opposition. It wrote that pushing the Congress away from national politics and creating an Opposition grouping parallel to the UPA would be tantamount to strengthening the BJP and ‘fascist’ forces. Defending the Congress, the Sena said if those fighting the BJP feel that the Congress should cease to exist, then this attitude is the ‘biggest threat.’ It asserted that if there is no unity among the Opposition parties, then the talk of creating a political alternative to the ruling BJP should end. It even asserted the NDA does not virtually exist as the BJP no longer needs its allies in the NDA with the numbers it has. However, the Opposition needs the UPA and any attempt to form a parallel alliance to it would only help the BJP, the Sena has argued.
The question is why Mamata has started torpedoing the Opposition alliance in which the Congress is a key constituent. For some time, she has been ridiculing the Congress and poaching on the grand old party. Earlier, it was the BJP which was engineering defection in the Congress and forming state governments with the help of deserters from the Congress, the most glaring cases happening in MP, Goa and Karnataka. But, now, the mantle seems to have fallen on Mamata and her party which is weaning Congress MLAs and leaders away from their party in Assam, Goa and Tripura. In Meghalaya, 12 out of 17 Congress MLAs recently defected to the Trinamool making it the principal Opposition party in the state. Mamata’s ambition seems to be to possibly shed the status of a regional party and project TMC as a national outfit with presence in several states. Her efforts faced an early setback in Tripura where the Trinamool could win only one civic body seat against the BJP’s landslide victory in several municipalities comprising, in all, over 300 seats. The ignominious defeat appears to have prompted her to weaken the Congress and unite disgruntled Congress leaders in different states under the Trinamool’s banner so as to project it as a replacement of the Congress. This explains why she targeted Rahul Gandhi and levelled against him the charge the BJP has been making all these years that he spends more time staying abroad rather than working for his party. Her intention seems to send the message to Congress leaders that they and others like her who quit the Congress can work together jumping from the Congress’ sinking ship.
The Congress and several top leaders, including some who have aired their differences with the high command, criticised Mamata’s remarks and ‘posturing’ to replace the Congress. The timing of Mamata’s frenetic efforts to dismember the Congress is also significant. The BJP is on the back foot following the farmers’ agitation that forced it to repeal the three farm laws. This is sending wrong signals to the electorate especially in UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab where Assembly elections will be held in the next few months. At this stage any impression that the Opposition is crumbling or there is infighting among its allies will be a boon for the BJP.
Political observers are also pointing out that Mamata’s tirade against the Congress acquired a new pitch since her nephew MP, Abhishek Banerjee, was grilled by Central agencies in cases of alleged corruption in allocation of coal blocks and some other irregularities. Using these agencies to make regional parties do its bidding has been a known tactic of the BJP. Mamata has been shifting her loyalty from the Congress to the BJP and vice versa to suit her interests since the inception of her party. This time she appears to be on a mission to discredit the Congress and form its parallel with old Congress hands while protecting her nephew. This will help her party spread its wings and the BJP fulfil its stated policy of “freeing India from the Congress.”