Trinamool’s National Ambitions: The Road Ahead and the Roadblocks

Mamata Banerjee’s approach to expand the horizon of the party beyond the corridors of Bengal is threatening the traditional vote base of the Left and the Congress.

Saibal Gupta

KOLKATA — The West Bengal poll results on May 2, 2021 might become a game-changer not only in the state but in national politics as well. The overwhelming majority of the Trinamool Congress in the assembly polls and its subsequent plan to expand its base in the North-East, North-West and the Western tip of the country is not only a warning bell for the ruling BJP but it is aggressively cutting its way through the traditional Congress base which might – in the near future – reshape the political equations in the country.

The BJP’s defeat in Bengal is surely a big lesson for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Despite the huge presence of the top leadership of the party, Mamata Banerjee nearly single-handedly took away the game from under the nose of the Modi-Shah duo. The Trinamool Congress got 215 seats in the 294 strong assembly in the state. The BJP that was dreaming of forming the government managed to get only 77 seats.

According to available data Prime Minister Narendra Modi held 23 rallies in 14 days and Union home minister Amit Shah held 79 rallies, roadshows and town halls in 20 days. The ruling party at the Centre deployed over 52 Union ministers, MPs, chief ministers and cabinet ministers of BJP-ruled states to campaign in Bengal. Around 15 to 17 senior BJP and RSS leaders were stationed in Bengal for more than three months.

Since Modi took over the reins of the country and the party, for the first time perhaps, barring Delhi, the Modi-Amit Shah combination failed to read the sentiments of the people in West Bengal resulting in a convincing loss for the saffron brigade. This not only destroyed the moral backbone of the BJP from which the party is yet to recover but at the same time decimated the two traditional mainline groupings in the state – the Congress and the Left Front. Both the Congress and the Left Front failed to get even a single seat creating a new political equation in the state.

Buoyed by the success of the party in the state, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s approach to expand the horizon of the party beyond the corridors of Bengal is threatening the traditional vote base of the Left and the Congress. In Tripura, the Trinamool Congress decided to try and make inroads in June this year. Within three months the party not only outsmarted the Congress but also followed on the heels of the Left Front that had ruled the state for 25 years.

Though the Trinamool Congress managed to win only one out of 334 seats in 14 municipal bodies in Tripura, there has been a stunning increase in the vote share of the party. The TMC surpassed the Congress in vote share, compared to the votes they got in the Assembly elections in 2018 and the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. The Trinamool’s vote share increased to 16.39% compared to 0.3% in 2018 and 0.4% in the 2019 elections.

Interestingly enough, the TMC is close to the Left Front so far as the vote share is concerned. The CPI (M), which ruled the state for 25 years before the BJP formed its first government in 2018, got 18.13% votes against 44.35% in 2018. The party’s vote share in 2019 stood at 17.31%. The ruling BJP, which swept the civic body polls by winning in all 14 municipal bodies, increased its vote share to 59.01% from 43.59% in 2018 and 49.03% in 2019.

The question that looms now is Mamata’s game plan. The BJP is sitting pretty. Its domination is virtually unchallenged. The question is not whether the BJP will make it a third time at the Centre but what the Opposition’s game plan is, if it has one.

The Congress, as the only other national party, notionally ought to head an Opposition coalition and take on the BJP-NDA’s might. The Opposition is an army of disparate forces, without a commander-in-chief to lead the squads in the battleground.

The Congress is headless, without a full-time president. Sonia Gandhi gives the impression that she is a reluctant interim president. Her political heir, Rahul Gandhi, is unfocused and more intent on consolidating his position without firm ground to walk upon. The group of 23 dissidents waits in the wings presumably to strike at an opportune moment.

The handful of states where the Congress is in power are rocked by dissension due to intra-party conflicts and fuelled by the “high command”. There are visibly no new territories for the Congress to lay siege to right now. Mamata Banerjee is trying to use this political vacuum and come up as the prime face of the opposition to lead the front against the NDA alliance.

She has already roped in Sushmita Dev, a former Congress MP and ironically a close aide of Rahul, to enlarge the TMC’s footprints in Assam and the other North-Eastern states. So far as Goa is concerned the TMC is likely to use it as a launching pad in national politics and brand itself as a vibrant opposition against the BJP, triggering an induction-spree across the country.

In Goa, which the TMC is seeing as a springboard into national politics, it has inducted many influential faces including former Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro, tennis player Leander Paes, actor Nafisa Ali and Mrinalini Deshprabhu.

The Mamata Banerjee-led party also plans to traverse through all the prominent states of north India. “The TMC has a brain behind it to make it a national party with national and secular outlook and acts,” said a TMC leader.

In its south India move, the TMC’s first focus is on Karnataka and efforts are on to induct some Congress leaders. “There is also a plan to take the TMC into the next Assembly polls due in 2023 in the state. So, the party is zeroing in on influential faces,” reliable sources said.


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