Trinamool Battles ‘Outsider’ Tag In Goa Even As Congress Calls Its Bluff On Alliance

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Jan 23, 2022 02:41 PM +05:30 IST
Trinamool Battles ‘Outsider’ Tag In Goa Even As Congress Calls Its Bluff On AllianceTrinamool Chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee
  • Engineering defections from other parties may make for good optics, but is no substitute for grassroots organisational strength and set up, the Trinamool has learnt.

The Trinamool Congress is angry and frustrated over its Goa game-plan unravelling. And it is blaming the Congress for its current predicament.

The Trinamool made its foray into Goa in September last year. Being a completely new political entity in that tiny coastal state, the Trinamool resorted to the only one quick option to make its presence felt: It expended huge resources to lure away politicians from other parties.

Many Congress politicians, including former chief minister Luizinho Faleiro, joined the Trinamool and that helped the party create an artificial buzz about its growing strength in the state.

A few Congress MLAs and ex-MLAs were also lured into Bengal’s provincial party, whose Goa strategy was crafted and implemented by the party’s hired political strategist Prashant Kishor.

The Trinamool also spent huge sums of money on publicity, plastering the state with mega cutouts of its supremo Mamata Banerjee and buying space in local and national media.

A lot of money was also spent in inducting low and mid-ranking workers from the Congress into the party.

But the Trinamool knew that at the end of the day, all these imports from other parties and the paid publicity would not amount to much since its growth in Goa was not organic.

And, thus, if it were to contest elections on its own, it would fall flat on its face.

The Trinamool’s top leadership and Prashant Kishor were only too aware of the hard political reality — that without any organisation on the ground worth the name, the party would not be able to mobilise voters.

Engineering defections from other parties may make for good optics, but is no substitute for grassroots organisational strength and set up.

“Every political party needs grassroots level workers and a strong organisational base to carry its message across to the people and mobilise voters on the ground. The leaders who joined the Trinamool also brought along some of their followers, but that has clearly not been enough. The Trinamool sorely lacks an organisational base in Goa,” political commentator Alexio Gomes told Swarajya from Panaji.

Knowing that just three to four months (from the time it made its first moves in Goa in September till the time electioneering picks up in mid-January) is too short a period to build an organisation from scratch, the Trinamool calculated that it would need to rely on a party with an existing organisational set up in Goa to cover this lacuna.

And that is why, despite inflicting cuts on the Congress by luring away its senior members and ranting against the Congress’ perceived inability to take on the BJP, the Trinamool has always been very keen on a pre-poll alliance with the Congress.

“The Trinamool had hoped that it would piggyback on us and leverage our organisational base and strength to win a few seats in Goa. But it played a double-game: on the one hand, it kept up its constant criticism of our party and even our top leaders, and also engineered defections from our party, while on the other hand, it reiterated the need for opposition unity to take on the BJP,” said Congress’ Goa desk-in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao.

Rao said that the Trinamool’s first target when it entered Goa was the Congress. “The Congress was its (Trinamool’s) primary target when it set foot in Goa. They (the Trinamool) launched a campaign against us accusing us of being weak and unable to take on the BJP, and then engineered defections from our party. It thus positioned itself as our political enemy. The alliance that it then sought was not possible,” he explained.

Former Congress legislator Francisco ‘Mickky’ Pacheco told Swarajya: “The Trinamool bought over some of our leaders, but could not touch our organisational base. Our workers, who are our biggest strength, remained with us. That's why the Trinamool was desperately seeking an alliance with us to leverage our organisational strength and win some seats as our ally”.

Goa Congress president Girish Raya Chodankar explained the Trinamool’s strategy: “The Trinamool was desperate for an alliance. Its strategy was that in the seats that would be allotted to it, Congress workers would work for the Trinamool candidate since that party would be our poll ally. That way, the Trinamool hoped to make up for its severe organisational lacuna in Goa”.

The Congress leadership realised the Trinamool’s game-plan and decided to call the Bengal provincial party’s bluff. It kept on cold-shouldering the Trinamool’s frantic overtures for an alliance, but did not reject the proposition outright.

However, as the days wore on, the Trinamool realised that its chances of entering into a pre-poll alliance with the Congress were receding. And when the Congress announced its first list of candidates a few days ago, the Trinamool caught on to the fact that the Congress would not consider its proposition.

The Congress central leadership, however, took care to desist from saying ‘no’ to the Trinamool pointblank. That’s why P. Chidambaram and a couple of other senior leaders declared that the Trinamool’s alliance proposal was 'not concrete' and 'lacked details'.

The Trinamool was also planning to put pressure on the Congress and force it to agree to allot at least 15 seats to the Trinamool. “The Trinamool very cleverly created a buzz that it was emerging as the principal opposition party in Goa. It projected itself as the only party capable of taking the BJP bull by its horns. And, thus, had we agreed in principle to a pre-poll alliance, the Trinamool’s game-plan would have been to get at least 15 seats. And it was eyeing seats where the Congress is strong,” a senior Congress leader who did not want to be named told Swarajya.

“Had the seat-sharing talks broken down (as it would inevitably have since the Trinamool had planned to demand many more seats than it could actually win and the Congress could never have conceded more than two to three seats to the new entrant to Goa), the Trinamool would have then blamed us for not being serious about forging an alliance to defeat the BJP. That is why we did not take the Trinamool’s offer seriously right from the start,” a senior Congress leader who did not want to be named told Swarajya.

Finally realising that the Congress leadership had silently vetoed its alliance proposal, the Trinamool has gone ballistic against the Congress. Trinamool ‘national general secretary’ Abhishek Banerjee flew down to Panaji to accuse the Congress of derailing efforts to forge a united opposition in Goa against the BJP.

Abhishek Banerjee took P. Chidambaram’s name and blamed him for the alliance not happening. “The Congress and Chidambaram will be responsible if BJP wins the elections and forms the government in Goa,” Banerjee said.

But his desperation for a last-minute change of heart by the Congress was apparent when he appealed to the Congress to “keep its ego aside” and “put public interest first” by joining hands with the Trinamool. But that appeal, issued Thursday (January 20) failed to cut any ice.

And this made the Trinamool’s ‘national vice president’ Pavan Verma (a recent defector to the party from the JD-U) lash out against the Congress. Verma blamed Rahul Gandhi for the Congress virtually junking the Trinamool’s alliance proposal and accused him of having a “narrow political vision”.

Other Trinamool leaders like Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra lambasted the Congress and accused it of playing into the BJP’s hands by not aligning with the Trinamool.

Apart from lacking an organisational base in Goa, the Trinamool also realises that it is looked upon as a provincial party from Bengal by Goans. The Trinamool leadership has received feedback from Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) that an overwhelming majority of Goans still view the Trinamool as an ‘outsider’ party.

The I-PAC is helping Trinamool with its election campaign in Goa and is continuously conducting surveys among the people there.

Former Congress MLA from Curtorim, Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, alluded to this recently. Lourenco has resigned as an MLA and left the Congress to join the Trinamool in December 2021. But he resigned from the Trinamool last Sunday (January 17) and returned to the Congress.

“Soon after joining the Trinamool, I realised the blunder I had committed. My supporters, well-wishers and even close friends turned their backs on me, accusing me of helping a party of outsiders from Bengal enter Goa for its own selfish and narrow political ends. I realised that the people of Goa view the Trinamool as a party which has not come to Goa to do some good to the state and keeping the interests of the state and its people in mind, but just in order to expand its footprints outside Bengal and bolster the chances of its chief Mamata Banerjee playing a major role in national politics,” said Lourenco.

“I would have stayed on in the Trinamool and fought this perception and changed people’s views about the Trinamool. But I soon realised that the people of Goa are very intelligent and have read the Trinamool’s actual intentions correctly. I realised staying within the party that the Trinamool has no love for Goa and Goenkars (Goans) and its sole objective of entering Goa is to further its national political ambitions,” Lourneco added.

Others who left the Trinamool after having joined the party, including former Ponda MLA Lavoo Mamledar, echoed Lourenco and labelled the Trinamool as an ‘outsider’ in Goa.

The Trinamool had hoped to battle and tide over this perception by aligning with the Congress in Goa. But by refusing to play ball, the Congress has poured cold water on its plans. And that is why the Trinamool is incensed.

After all, having invested so much in Goa, the Trinamool cannot be happy to realise that its Goan dream could well turn into a nightmare.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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