Why Defection Of Lone Bengal Congress MLA To Trinamool Is A Nail In The Coffin Of ‘Opposition Unity’

Why Defection Of Lone Bengal Congress MLA To Trinamool Is A Nail In The Coffin Of ‘Opposition Unity’

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Tuesday, May 30, 2023 02:55 PM IST
Why Defection Of Lone Bengal Congress MLA To Trinamool Is A Nail In The Coffin Of ‘Opposition Unity’Abhishek Banerjee inducting Congress MLA Bayron Biswas into the Trinamool
  • Many in the Congress feel that the Trinamool engineered defections from the Congress in those states and contested elections in recent years there, in order to help the BJP. 

The only Congress MLA in Bengal, Bayron Biswas, joined the Trinamool Congress Monday (29 May). He was inducted into the party by Trinamool general secretary Abhishek Banerjee. 

Biswas, who runs a multi-crore beedi-making business, won the bypolls to the Sagardighi Assembly constituency in Murshidabad district in early March this year. 

The Congress and the Left had reached an electoral understanding and Biswas was supported by the Left. He defeated his nearest Trinamool rival by an impressive margin of nearly 23,000 votes. 

The victory of the Left-supported Congress candidate from a seat that has been held by the Trinamool since 2011 (the Left has won this seat six successive times since 1977) enthused the Congress and the Left in equal measure. The bypolls had been necessitated by the death of the sitting Trinamool MLA from that seat. 

The two (Congress and Left) declared that the ‘Sagardighi model’ (a seat-sharing formula) between them would pose a major challenge to the Trinamool Congress in Bengal in future. 

The victory of Biswas was also interpreted as the result of growing public disenchantment with the Trinamool which has been buffeted by corruption charges and faces growing anti-incumbency.

The defection of the beedi baron to the Trinamool Congress does not, however, come as a surprise. Biswas, it was widely suspected, had been in touch with the Trinamool since mid-March and it was only a matter of time that he crossed over to Bengal’s ruling party. 

But the defection has angered the Congress top brass, including Rahul Gandhi. Berhampore Lok Sabha MP and state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told Swarajya that his party’s ‘high command’ has taken “a very dim view” of the development. 

The Congress has, ever since Mamata Banerjee ascended to power in Bengal in alliance with the Congress in 2011, been unhappy with Banerjee. 

Soon after coming to power, Mamata Banerjee started engineering defection of Congress functionaries into her party.

“She bought over some of our party functionaries and the ones she could not buy, she let loose her party cadres and police on them. Many were thus forced to join the Trinamool. Her sole objective was to decimate the Congress and usurp the entire political space in Bengal,” senior Congress leader Biswarup Dutta told Swarajya

Mamata Banerjee, through coercion, intimidation and by misusing the state machinery, ensured the defection of Congress leaders and workers into the Trinamool, said Adhir Chowdhury, who is the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha and is known to be close to the Gandhis. 

Chowdhury’s home district--Murshidabad--and the neighbouring districts of Malda and Nadia were once strongholds of the Congress.

But relentless pursuit, coercion and intimidation of Congress leaders and workers by the Trinamool has nearly decimated the Congress in its strongholds in Bengal, said Chowdhury. 

However, the Trinamool’s offensive against the Congress hasn’t been limited to Bengal. “The Trinamool wooed our leaders in Tripura, Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam, Goa and some other states and inducted them into its fold. Those were hostile acts,” said Chowdhury. 

Many in the Congress feel that the Trinamool engineered defections from the Congress in those states and contested elections in recent years there in order to help the BJP. 

“The Trinamool’s motives are suspect. It is not a party that can be trusted. Mamata Banerjee is solely interested in power and will do anything to grab it,” said a senior All India Congress Committee (AICC) leader. 

“Mamata Banerjee is authoritarian and cannot tolerate the existence of any other party in Bengal which she considers her exclusive turf. We accuse the BJP of being anti-democratic and trying to snuff out opposition, but Mamata Banerjee is a far greater danger to democracy than the BJP,” the AICC leader from Jharkhand told Swarajya

The Congress ‘high command’, it is learnt, is miffed with Mamata Banerjee for trying to woo Congress leaders in Bengal and some other states and inducting them into its fold in an ‘unethical’ manner. 

The induction of Congress MLA Bayron Biswas into the Trinamool, feels the Congress leadership, is an attempt by Mamata Banerjee to prove her point that Bengal is her exclusive turf. 

“She is trying to show that the Trinamool is the sole party, other than the BJP, in Bengal. With no MLAs belonging to the Congress or the Left in the Assembly, she can now claim that the Trinamool is the only party that can take on the BJP in Bengal,” said Adhir Chowdhury.  

“But that is not true at all. The Congress and the Left has its own strongholds and people are getting disillusioned with the Trinamool because of its corruption and misgovernance, and its failure to deliver on its promises. The Congress and the Left are getting stronger,” Chowdhury added. 

“Some leaders from our party may have joined the Trinamool. But the people are with us and they are angry with the Trinamool,” said Chowdhury. 

The Congress believes that Mamata Banerjee is preparing the ground for the Trinamool to lay claim to (contesting from) all 42 seats in Bengal in next year’s Lok Sabha polls. 

“Nitish Kumar has advocated the formula that the party which is the strongest in a constituency will field a candidate from that particular constituency while other non-BJP parties will support that candidate. Mamata Banerjee has endorsed that policy. She now wants to show that she is the only party in Bengal that can take on the BJP in all the constituencies in Bengal. Hence, she will lay claim to all the 42 Lok Sabha seats from Bengal,” said the AICC member. 

But the Congress, asserts Chowdhury, is determined to contest at least eight to ten Lok Sabha seats from Bengal. 

Chowdhury is learnt to have urged his party ‘high command’ to make it clear to Mamata Banerjee at the very outset that it will not cede the whole of Bengal to her. 

“Mamata Banerjee has started saying that she will support the Congress in states where the Congress is strong. But what difference will her so-called ‘support’ make to us in those states? She has zero presence in states outside Bengal,” a member of the AICC Steering Committee told Swarajya

This Congress leader, who is also the party in-charge of a Northeastern state, said that whatever marginal presence that the Trinamool has outside Bengal is courtesy the Congress. 

“The Trinamool, for instance, has some MLAs in Meghalaya. But they are all ex-Congress leaders. And they will all return to the Congress soon,” he said. 

What is, thus, clear is that the seat-sharing formula mooted by Nitish Kumar, which has been agreed to in principle by the Trinamool and some other parties, will not work on the ground. 

The Congress will not cede space to the Trinamool in Bengal which Mamata Banerjee considers her exclusive citadel. 

And a lot of bad blood has been created by Mamata Banerjee’s latest act of engineering the defection of the lone Congress MLA in Bengal to her party. 

A large section within the Congress leadership feels that Mamata Banerjee should no longer be allowed to piggyback on the Congress.

They feel she should no longer be allowed to get away with transgressions like engineering defections from the Congress. 

These Congress leaders have been telling the party ‘high command’ (read: the Gandhis) that Mamata Banerjee ought to be dealt with a firm hand and her expected demand that the Congress support her party’s candidates in all 42 seats from Bengal in next year’s Lok Sabha polls should be turned down. 

All this does not bode well for opposition unity. 

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