Karnataka chief minister designate Siddaramiah called up Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee Friday (May 19) afternoon and invited her to his swearing-in at Bengaluru’s Kanteerava stadium Saturday (20 May).
Banerjee, according to her senior party colleagues, wished Siddaramiah “best of luck” and chatted with him for a few minutes, but declined his invitation without offering any reasons. She only said she would depute a “senior leader” of her party to the swearing-in ceremony.
The ‘senior leader’ has turned out to be the not-so-senior Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a three-time Lok Sabha MP and deputy leader of the Trinamool in the lower House.
Mamata Banerjee’s decision to stay away from Bengaluru has been prompted by her aversion to giving the Congress a leadership role in any anti-BJP formation.
Banerjee has always held that the Congress should not play the role of a ‘big brother’ in the anti-BJP camp and regional parties should be given a chance to lead such a formation.
The emphatic win of the Congress in Karnataka has not really made her very happy, say her close aides.
“She would have preferred a hung House in Karnataka with the Congress and the Janata Dal (United) joining hands to form the government. The Congress’ final scorecard in Karnataka has upset her since it has made the Congress very upbeat and aggressive,” said a cabinet minister who is close to Chief Minister Banerjee.
The Congress top leadership is not quite pleased with Mamata Banerjee for her failure to credit Rahul Gandhi with the success in Karnataka.
“She (Mamata) did not mention Rahul Gandhi’s name even once while mentioning our big win in Karnataka. When all opposition leaders praised Rahul Gandhi for the success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Banerjee kept mum,” said Congress Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Chowdhury is very close to the Gandhi family, especially Sonia Gandhi. He has often baited Mamata Banerjee, who has communicated to the Congress leadership many times that Chowdhury should be asked to exercise restraint and desist from criticising the Trinamool.
But Chowdhury’s relentless criticism of Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress has irked her and she is peeved with the Congress leadership for ignoring her plea to rein in Chowdhury, the five-time Lok Sabha MP from Baharampur in Murshidabad district.
Significantly, Chowdhury dismissed Mamata’s call for one-on-one fight against the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Banerjee is advocating Nitish Kumar’s formula (read this) for taking on the BJP next year.
According to that formula, all Opposition parties should put up consensus candidates in as many seats as possible against BJP candidates. Whichever party is strong in a particular constituency should be allowed to field a candidate there and other opposition parties should support that consensus candidate.
But this formula has already run into rough weather because of the overarching ambitions of Mamata Banerjee and some other regional party leaders like Akhilesh Yadav.
Yadav, incidentally, has declared that SP may well field candidates from Raebareli and Amethi next year. Both these seats were once Congress strongholds and considered to be pocket boroughs of the Gandhi family.
And Yadav will also not be attending the swearing-in ceremony at Bengaluru today.
The Trinamool chief wants to field candidates in all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal and a few more in Tripura, Goa and Assam. And she wants other Opposition parties, especially the Congress, to support her candidates in all these seats.
The reason for this is her desire to win at least 40 to 45 Lok Sabha seats next year. That would propel her ahead of all regional parties in terms of Lok Sabha seats and would put her in a strong bargaining position vis-a-vis the Congress.
But the Congress refuses to play along. Adhir Chowdhury declared earlier this week that his party would field candidates in many Lok Sabha constituencies next year.
“Congress’ prospects in Bengal are getting brighter every day. We will fight wherever we feel it is necessary, we will definitely fight in a number of seats in Bengal,” said Chowdhury. His decisive snub to Banerjee’s proposal is said to have the blessings of the Congress ‘high command’.
Mamata Banerjee wants the Congress to leave Bengal to the Trinamool, Punjab to AAP, Uttar Pradesh to Samajwadi Party, Odisha to the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and other states where regional parties are strong to those parties. In return, she has offered support to the Congress in 200-odd seats where that party is strong.
Banerjee had said earlier this week: “I am giving you (Congress) support in Karnataka, but you are fighting me in Bengal. That cannot be the policy. If you want something good, then you have to make some sacrifices in some areas”.
But top Congress leaders who spoke to Swarajya laughed away her “support” to their party in Karnataka.
“What presence does the Trinamool have in Karnataka? What appeal does Mamata Banerjee have in Karnataka? Trinamool cannot win even a single gram panchayat or municipal body seat in Karnataka even if Mamata Banerjee campaigns there. Her claim of supporting us in Karnataka is amusing and bizarre,” said a senior Congress leader who is also a Rajya Sabha member.
The Congress leader also ridiculed Mamata Banerjee’s vaulting ambitions. “She over-estimates her party’s reach and appeal. Even after shameful setbacks in Goa and Tripura, and marginal success in Meghalaya, she pretends that the Trinamool is a national party and thinks she is a ‘national’ leader. She should do a reality check,” said the Congress MP, who was also a minister in the UPA II government.
Another Congress leader who was a minister in the UPA I government and knows Banerjee well told Swarajya: “The Congress is the only national party (apart from the BJP) with a pan-Indian presence and regional parties like the Trinamool have to acknowledge and accept this fact. The Congress has to lead any anti-BJP front. Regional parties will be given their due importance and respect, but they will have to accept the leadership of the Congress”.
But this is exactly what Banerjee and leaders of some other regional parties are unwilling to acknowledge.
That is why Mamata Banerjee has kept herself away from the swearing-in ceremony in Bengaluru today. She reckoned that attending the ceremony would have been seen as tact acknowledgement of the Congress’ emphatic win in that state by her.
She also felt that Sonia Gandhi and her children — Rahul and Priyanka —would (rightly) be the star attractions at the ceremony where she would have been relegated to the sidelines and play second fiddle to the Gandhis. That, for sure, would have been unacceptable to Mamata Banerjee who wants to hog the limelight on every stage and venue.
But her absence (at the swearing-in) sends the wider message that forging Opposition unity to take on the BJP next year will be quite an impossible task. Especially since the Opposition stage is full of egotistical leaders with unrealistic ambitions and grossly exaggerated sense of self-importance.
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