By Jayanta Ghoshal: All India Trinamool Congress supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee envisioned an enthusiastic Opposition unity after the 2021 Assembly elections in West Bengal. Almost two years later, she has perhaps now realised that this may be a pipe dream.
The TMC suffered a stunning defeat in the 2022 Goa Assembly polls. Consequently, the party’s internal strategy was to concentrate on West Bengal alone, and not stretch its cadre thin outside the state. However, it is important for any national party to expand its political footprint.
The TMC is shaping its national ambitions via north-east route because it’s a party from the east. There is a considerable Bengali population in Tripura, one of the four states going to polls this year. The Assembly polls in Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura are scheduled to be held in February-March, while the Mizoram election will take place later in the year.
So, what is the TMC’s north-east strategy?
THE MEGHALAYA MISSION
The party’s top priority is to target Meghalaya, a state where Didi anticipates a degree of success. Mukul Sangma, the son of late Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma, is a popular leader in Meghalaya, and the TMC has him. Abhishek Banerjee allegedly made a behind-the-scenes deal. He went to the state and prepared the ground silently. A large number of Congress leaders in the state have now joined the TMC. Consequently, the TMC has become the number two party in Meghalaya.
Late PA Sangma was a contemporary of Mamata Banerjee when he joined the TMC. He later joined the Nationalist Congress Party but returned to the TMC. He and Mamata Banerjee shared a love-hate relationship. Now Abhishek Banerjee and junior Sangma have fostered a good relationship, something that will obviously be advantageous to the TMC.
A senior TMC leader said, “We may not form the government there (Meghalaya) but we can form a respectable opposition.” For that, the TMC has to campaign aggressively to form a government there. After all, no political party campaigns to form the opposition.
But will the TMC occupying the Congress party’s space work to the BJP’s advantage? This is something we witnessed in the 2022 Gujarat Assembly polls. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal campaigned actively in the state and the Aam Aadmi Party did manage to make inroads. But the elections also saw the Congress party getting decimated and the BJP consequently snatch an extraordinary victory. We might see this play out once again in Meghalaya.
THE TRIPURA TASK
The TMC had expectations in Tripura, especially since there was strong anti-incumbency against former chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb. Congress party leader Sudip Roy Barman was supposed to join the TMC, but the deal fell through at the last moment. The TMC leadership said that he was ready and capable enough to split the BJP, and had he joined, he could have been the CM ousting Deb.
But Abhishek was allegedly not in favour of this, fearing a negative impact in West Bengal. The TMC thus thought that for Tripura, a long-term strategy was better. Barman, however, has denied any plans to join the TMC. In fact, after leaving the BJP, he joined Congress. Now, the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the tribal party, Tipra Motha, may form an electoral alliance to defeat the BJP.
It is worth noting that the Tipra Motha party has reportedly made it clear that it will not ally with any party without a written assurance in support of its core demand for ‘Greater Tipraland’, its proposed tribal state. But an alliance between the three will no doubt become a challenge for the BJP. But where does this leave the TMC?
Tribal leader Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma, the current head of the Tripuri royal family, once had a dialogue with TMC. Then too, his demand was to include in their joint manifesto the demand for separate tribal statehood. The TMC declined as the party’s main vote bank was the Bengali population in the state. This decision, thus, left the TMC no longer being an important contender in the state’s polls.
Abhishek Banerjee, the party general secretary and the de facto second-in-command, has visited Tripura several times. He’s even gone so far as to say that his party has emerged as the principal challenger to the BJP in the state. Two TMC leaders are in charge of Tripura. One is Sushmita Dev, a TMC Rajya Sabha member and the daughter of the late central minister Santosh Mohan Dev, and the other is Rajib Banerjee.
The TMC is likely to contest the Assembly elections in Tripura alone. Mamata may visit the state at least once for campaigning on the popular demand of TMC workers.
BJP’S GRAND STRATEGY FOR TRIPURA
The BJP changed Tripura’s CM. In May 2022, just a year before Assembly polls in the state, Biplab Kumar Deb resigned from his post and was succeeded by Manik Saha.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is a proactive grand strategist for the BJP in Meghalaya, prompting Mamata Banerjee to hit out at the NPP-BJP government in the state as a “proxy government controlled from Delhi and Guwahati”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have been campaigning heavily with infrastructural development in Tripura at the centre: a new airport, new flyovers, and more.
NO PLANS IN NAGALAND
TMC apparently doesn’t have any plans for Nagaland this election. Top TMC sources said they want to focus on Meghalaya this time. “It is a step-by-step strategy.”
A TMC leader said, “We don’t have that financial support base that others have. In Meghalaya, TMC got Mukul Sangma but Nagaland TMC does not have any good local leader or ally. So, this time the party is not focussing on Kohima.”
Ahead of the assembly elections, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) is eyeing to revamp the party at all levels. In November last year, NPF president and former Nagaland chief minister Dr Shurhozelie Liezietsu launched a district tour from Mokokchung.
TMC’s ASSESSMENT AND ADVICE
The TMC’s internal assessment found that nationally, Opposition parties are still fragmented, and a joint anti-BJP front prior to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls is not likely to happen. Didi’s advice to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, AAP’s Kejriwal, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and several regional leaders: Let’s all concentrate on our own states, and before the 2024 elections, we will finalise our strategy.
The TMC’s top priority right now is still West Bengal because of the panchayat polls in May this year. However, the participation in Meghalaya, Tripura, and Nagaland Assembly polls is an attempt to maintain the national party identity. In politics, there is no full stop.