The landslide victory of the Trinamool Congress in the just-concluded panchayat polls in Bengal represents a significant setback to efforts by the Opposition parties to cobble an anti-BJP front at the national level.
The Trinamool sweep of the polls has led the party’s top leadership to harden its stance against conceding a ‘respectable’ number of Lok Sabha seats in Bengal to the Congress and CPI(M) to contest from.
Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee is learnt to have told her close confidants that the electoral prospects of the Congress and CPI(M) in Bengal in the Lok Sabha polls next year “is very dim”.
She told a trusted party colleague, who is also a senior minister in her cabinet, that conceding any seat to the Congress or CPI(M) from Bengal would be pointless.
“Our leader has an unrivalled understanding of the political situation in Bengal and knows the pulse of the people. She has studied the panchayat poll results and is convinced that the Congress and the Left cannot win any (Lok Sabha). So there is no point in having a seat-sharing agreement with the Congress and Left in Bengal,” the minister, who did not want to be named for obvious reasons, told Swarajya.
He added that conceding seats to the Congress-CPI(M) combine next year would amount to giving away those seats to the BJP.
At a series of informal confabulations held over the past three days with her close confidants, the Trinamool chairperson is learnt to have contended that with a vote share of 55.7 per cent (in the panchayat polls), the Trinamool is the unassailable leader in Bengal.
“The vote share of the Congress-Left-ISF (Indian Secular Front) alliance was merely 19 per cent. This will fall drastically in the Lok Sabha elections because people of Bengal want to see Mamata Banerjee play a prominent role at the national level and will not waste their votes on the CPI(M) or Congress,” a senior office-bearer of the Trinamool who was present at one of these informal meets told Swarajya.
Trinamool general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, who was also present, is learnt to have pointed out that the Congress-Left-ISF alliance did well only in a few pockets of some districts. “But we (Trinamool) were the clear winners in even those districts. We trumped the Congress even in districts like Murshidabad and Malda that it (the Congress) considers its strongholds,” Abhishek reportedly told the Trinamool elders.
Abhishek is said to have referred to charts and detailed statistics showing voting trends in Parliamentary, Assembly, civic and panchayat polls over the past several years.
“Based on all those figures and a thorough analysis, he (Abhishek) showed that the Trinamool is a clear winner in most of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in this state and the Congress and Left stand no chance in any seat. And that is borne out by the fact that we won all the Zilla Parishads this time,” said the Trinamool office-bearer.
Then there is another factor that has hardened Mamata Banerjee’s attitude against the Congress and CPI(M).
“If they (Congress and Left) want our help at the national level, they cannot fight us like enemies in Bengal. The language used by Congress and Left leaders, the allegations they levelled against us and the name-calling they indulged in during and after the polls is completely unacceptable and leaves little room for any understanding with them at the state level,” said the cabinet minister who echoed Mamata Bannerjee on this.
The Trinamool chief is particularly peeved with some senior Congress and CPI(M) leaders who did not spare even her family, especially Abhishek Banerjee.
Mamata Banerjee, as is well known, is sensitive to barbs directed at her immediate family members, including Abhishek, her brothers and sisters-in-law. She is fiercely defensive of them and does not take any allegations directed at them lying down.
That’s why senior Congress and Left leaders touched a raw nerve when they kept up an unrelenting barrage of allegations, especially relating to corruption, against Mamata Banerjee, Abhishek Banerjee and her brothers.
The Trinamool chief is learnt to have told her close confidants that had the Congress and the Left been civil and fought the panchayat polls as “our (Trinamool’s) rivals instead of our enemies”, she could have been accommodative towards them.
Mamata Banerjee is also incensed over the CPI(M)’s tie-up with the ISF which, she is convinced, has been propped up to cut into her Muslim vote bank.
She also suspects that the ISF has links with the BJP and, hence, the Left and the BJP have a common agenda of splitting Muslim votes. Such a split will harm the Trinamool a lot and will benefit the BJP as well as the Left.
“The ISF created a lot of trouble for us in Bhangar in South 24 Parganas. They (the ISF) managed to get the support of a section of Muslims in South 24 Parganas. The ISF could do so because of the backing of the CPI(M),” said the cabinet minister.
The Trinamool’s top leadership feels that if the ISF is not contained immediately, it can damage the Trinamool’s electoral prospects later. The ISF can become the Trinamool’s principal rival in Muslim-dominated areas and that does not bode well for the Trinamool.
“In some areas of the state like South 24 Parganas, the ISF is a greater enemy for us than the BJP. It stands to reason, thus, that we cannot have any sort of understanding with a party that is a political ally of the ISF (meaning the CPI-M) in Bengal,” said a Trinamool minister who is a Muslim.
It is learnt that Mamata Banerjee was, till some time ago, inclined towards conceding about six to eight Lok Sabha seats to the Congress-Left combine. But she now feels that she has no reason to be charitable towards them.
That is bad news for Opposition unity. The Congress state leadership told Swarajya that the party will settle for nothing less than eight seats in the event of a seat-sharing deal with non-BJP parties.
The Congress state leadership has identified these eight seats where it deems its prospects are bright.
The CPI(M) also wants at least seven seats which it has identified. CPI(M) and Congress leaders say that their claims (to the 15 seats) are based on their performance in the just-concluded panchayat polls as well as the results of all elections held over the last one and half decades.
If Mamata Banerjee is adamant on not conceding more than a couple of seats at best to the Congress-Left combine in Bengal, the Congress central leadership is likely to harden its stance and reject Trinamool’s claims for seats to contest from in some other states.
An indication of Mamata Banerjee’s annoyance with the Congress and Left lies in her decision against going to Bengaluru on Tuesday (July 18) instead of Monday (July 17). Leaders of all other Opposition parties invited to the Bengaluru meet will be reaching that city by Monday evening.
The only engagement Monday evening is a dinner hosted by Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah. Mamata Banerjee will skip that dinner because she wants to avoid meeting Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, with whom she shares a pleasant rapport, and some other Opposition leaders.
Banerjee wants to avoid meeting Sonia Gandhi in an informal setting because she (the Trinamool chief) fears that Sonia Gandhi may request her to concede a number of seats to the Congress in Bengal.
“She (Didi) has a good rapport and a lot of respect for Soniaji, and so she may find it difficult to turn down a request from the latter. Didi also wants to avoid coming face to face with CPI(M) leaders like Sitaram Yechury in an informal setting. So she will attend the serious sessions only on Tuesday,” said the senior cabinet minister and Mamata aide.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!