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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 52, New Delhi, December 11, 2021

To Promote Opposition Unity the TMC Should be Careful to Avoid Confrontation with the Congress | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 11 December 2021, by Bharat Dogra

Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of W. Bengal, is also a prominent, nationally recognized political leader of India whose reputation as a gutsy, gritty, courageous political leader capable of establishing a close rapport with people was strengthened greatly with a very significant and emphatic victory in West Bengal Assembly elections held in April. Although the BJP, by far the richest and most powerful political party of India at present, had left no stone unturned and poured in all its human and financial resources, used up its entire bagful of tricks and tactics, yet the Trinamool Congress (TMC) was able to humble it and win its third term in the state with a thumping triumph whose reverberations could be heard all over the country. There have been few elections of a single state which have evoked as much national interest as the West Bengal elections did early this year.

Hence it was only to be expected that Mamata Banerjee (often called Didi or elderly sister) quickly grew further in national stature in the aftermath of these election results, and became one of the most visible, nationally recognized and powerful symbols of unity of opposition parties which is much needed to challenge the powerful hold of the BJP and the BJP led coalition in national politics. Simultaneously the national stature of some other emerging leaders of the TMC also grew, but Didi, both as founder and Chairperson of TMC and as three-term Chief Minister of West Bengal, has always remained the predominant face of the TMC at national level. To her also belongs the credit of being the first woman chief minister of the state and the first woman railway minister of India.

So because of her rising national stature and popularity in any case she was headed after the April elections for an increasingly important role in national politics and more specifically in national opposition politics. This is already happening, but not for all good and happy reasons. Instead of strengthening the unity of all opposition parties, in recent weeks she has been more frequently seen in a confrontational role in relation to the leading opposition party namely the Congress Party (which was also the first political party of her career with which she was associated all the way from a student leader to becoming a minister in the union cabinet). This confrontational attitude can be seen in some of her statements and those of her colleagues. This can also be seen in terms of the efforts being encouraged to obtain the entry of disgruntled Congress members and leaders in several states. This is being showcased by the TMC as evidence of its expansion in other parts of the country. Perhaps it is, but is this in the wider national interests of opposition unity?

Of course the TMC has every right, like any other political party of the country, to work and strengthen its position in any part of the country, to expand its reach and aspire for a national status. In fact such efforts are not new and the party has been making limited inroads in some other states from time to time. These have been mostly in the north-east, but some efforts, with very limited success, had been made even in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala, Tamil Nadu etc.

Despite this earlier history, the reason why more recent efforts of the TMC in this direction have attracted more comment is that these appear to be more frequently and aggressively aimed at poaching some leaders from the Congress. It would have been much better for TMC as well as for opposition unity if it had concentrated on grassroots work, in keeping with its name, instead of resorting to poaching from a party which after all is still the most important opposition party in the country. This tactic as well as certain statements aimed at questioning the status of the Congress Party and its leadership as the leading opposition force have prompted political analysts to ask—what’s up?

Again, the TMC is entitled to its reservations regarding the Congress leadership but if you are working for opposition unity then you cannot be very particular about working with only those whom you consider to be the best. You have to think more in terms of utilizing the strengths of all important political forces who believe in some important precepts and making the best possible use of them. No one is entirely without blemish. Certain blemishes can be found also in those opposition parties and leaders with whom TMC seems quite happy to work. Of course there have also been problems within the TMC as well. Corruption? Promoting family members or close relatives? A party based more on one supreme leader? Well, the TMC also has its share of all these problems.
What kind of opposition unity does the TMC favor? It appears its idea of opposition unity at national level may be of a coalition minus the Congress, the CPM and the CPI. But if you are thinking of creating a future of India based on secularism, communal harmony and pro-poor policies then including these three parties is very important. Besides some of the other opposition parties, the TMC may be willing to work with are already in alignment with the Congress in ruling coalitions in some state governments, and surely it is not the TMC’s idea of opposition unity to threaten such state governments.

There are several serious problems with the TMC idea of seeking to advance opposition unity while entering into avoidable confrontation with the Congress at the same time. Following the BJP’s concept of Congress mukt Bharat, is the TMC going to argue for Congress mukt opposition? The second concept is of course as meaningless as the first one. The TMC should seriously consider whether its current trends will help opposition unity or whether these will help the BJP. A much better course of action would be to work for very broad unity of all those opposition forces that believe in pro-poor policies, secularism and communal harmony along with a broader agenda of justice at all levels and environment protection.

(The writer is a journalist and author. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times))

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