The INDI Alliance, as has been predicted many times in Swarajya, is a non-starter in Bengal.
Trinamool chairperson Mamata Banerjee made this clear Wednesday (January 24) when she declared that her party would contest all 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
She has repeatedly said that she’s willing to offer only two seats to the Congress, and none to the CPI(M). The Congress wanted at least six to seven seats, a demand that the Trinamool summarily rejected.
Banerjee informally conveyed to the Congress central leadership that she would be willing to allocate more than two seats to the national party, but only if the Congress also reciprocates by giving her one seat in Meghalaya and two in Assam (read this).
But Congress leaders in the two Northeastern states opposed this and conveyed their opposition to having Trinamool as an ally in their states.
That’s because the Trinamool has grown in Assam and Meghalaya at the cost of the Congress. The Trinamool engineered defections from the Congress to form its units in the two states, and hence there exists a lot of bad blood between the Congress and defectors from the party to the Trinamool.
The Congress central leadership, senior Trinamool leaders told Swarajya, did not respond to Mamata Banerjee’s proposal. This has angered Banerjee who has finally decided against having even an informal seat-sharing arrangement with the Congress.
Banerjee has now decided that her party will contest from the Tura Lok Sabha seat in Meghalaya, and the Silchar and Tezpur Lok Sabha seats in Assam.
A senior Trinamool leader who is also a cabinet minister and is close to Mamata Banerjee told Swarajya that a formal announcement in this regard will be made soon.
Banerjee reckons that the chances of her party candidates in the three seats are bright. It has been decided that former Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma will contest from Tura.
Sangma, along with eleven other Congress MLAs, joined the Trinamool in November 2021.
Though Mamata Banerjee, her nephew Abhishek, and other top Trinamool leaders campaigned extensively in Meghalaya for the February 2023 Assembly elections, the party could win only five (of the 60) Assembly seats.
But the poor show in the Assembly elections hasn’t deterred the Trinamool from pinning its hopes on bagging the Tura Lok Sabha seat. The Trinamool’s vote share in last year’s Assembly elections in Meghalaya was 13.38 per cent.
In Assam, the Trinamool is planning to field its Rajya Sabha MP, Susmita Dev, from Silchar. Sushmita won the seat on a Congress ticket in 2014, but lost it to BJP’s Rajdeep Roy in 2019.
Sushmita’s father Santosh Mohan Dev was a senior Congress leader who won the seat five times (1980, 1984, 1996, 1999 and 2004) and was also a Union Minister under Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao. Santosh Mohan Dev was a Congress strongman who also won from the Tripura West Lok Sabha seat in 1989 and 1991.
Sushmita, who was the president of Mahila Congress, defected to the Trinamool in August 2021. Mamata Banerjee feels that Dev stands a good chance of winning back the Silchar seat from the BJP.
Banerjee is also likely to field Ripun Bora, the president of the Assam unit of the Trinamool, from the Tezpur Lok Sabha seat. Bora was the Congress state unit president and a former legislator from Gohpur Assembly constituency which is part of the Tezpur Lok Sabha seat. He was also a Congress Rajya Sabha member.
Bora, a controversial figure who was also the education minister of Assam, defected from the Congress to the Trinamool in April 2022.
Apart from these two seats in Assam, Mamata Banerjee is eyeing a tie-up with the Maulana Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) which is popular among Bengali-speaking Muslims of Assam.
The AIUDF was once an ally of the Congress and had won 16 seats--all dominated by Bangladesh-origin Muslims--in the 2021 Assam Assembly elections.
But since then, the two parties--AIUDF and Congress--have had a bitter fallout. Ajmal has represented the Dhubri Lok Sabha seat thrice since 2009. He is certain to bag the seat this time too.
An alliance with the AIUDF, feels Mamata Banerjee, will bolster her image among Muslims. And it will also increase her Lok Sabha tally.
Given the bad blood between the AIUDF and Congress, Mamata Banerjee wouldn’t have been able to ally with Ajmal had she gone for a seat-sharing deal with the Congress.
Apart from Meghalaya and Assam, Mamata Banerjee is also exploring the possibility of aligning with the Tipra Motha in Tripura. The Motha, led by scion of the erstwhile royal family, Pradyut Bikram Manikya Deb Barma, is popular among the indigenous tribals of the state.
The Trinamool, which engineered defections from the Congress in Tripura as well, contested the 2018 and 2023 Assembly elections in that state but failed to win any seats.
Banerjee thinks that the Motha has a good chance of winning the Tripura East Lok Sabha seat which comprises 30 Assembly segments of which 14 are dominated by tribals.
But even a loose alliance with the Motha will not go down well with the Bengalis, and Mamata Banerjee is wary of that. A final decision on Tripura will be taken in the coming weeks, Trinamool leaders told Swarajya.
Winning Lok Sabha seats beyond Bengal is crucial for Mamata Banerjee for two reasons. One, it will negate the belief that her influence is confined to the geographical limits of her native state (Bengal) and will establish her as a leader whose political clout extends beyond Bengal.
Two, Banerjee knows that she can win only a limited number of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from Bengal. Even the most optimistic Trinamool leader concedes that the party will bag, at best, 32 to 35 Lok Sabha seats.
That will not allow Banerjee to play any major role on the national stage if, as she fervently hopes, the BJP fails to win a majority of seats. Banerjee has long harboured national ambitions.
That is why winning even one seat outside Bengal is very important for Mamata Banerjee. And it is this quest that has led her to reject a seat-sharing deal with the Congress.
But she has also kept alive the prospect of a post-poll deal with the Congress and other parties in the INDI Alliance.
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