West Bengal

Mamata Banerjee Sets Tough Conditions For The Congress ‘High Command’ In Exchange For Her Support

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 24, 2024, 11:12 AM | Updated 01:47 PM IST

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi
  • Sonia Gandhi sent P Chidambaram as her personal emissary to Kolkata to meet Mamata Banerjee. 
  • Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has set tough conditions before the Congress ‘high command’ in return for her robust support to the party within the INDI Alliance at the national level. 

    Former Union minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram was sent by Sonia Gandhi as her personal emissary to Kolkata on Thursday (June 20) to meet Mamata Banerjee. 

    Chidambaram, who had a fairly good rapport with the mercurial Trinamool chairperson, met the latter at her office at Nabanna, the state secretariat. The closed-door meeting without any aides lasted for a little over 40 minutes. 

    Chidambaram is learnt to have requested Mamata Banerjee for her unstinted support to Rahul Gandhi and the Congress within the INDI Alliance and for the Trinamool’s close coordination with the Congress on the floor of Parliament. 

    The Trinamool’s support is crucial for the Congress and for Opposition unity in Parliament since it is the third largest Opposition party with 29 Lok Sabha seats. 

    Though the Samajwadi Party (SP) with 37 Lok Sabha seats is the second-largest party, the Congress ‘high command’ (read: the Gandhis) are not completely sure of Akhilesh Yadav’s total support. 

    Though the two parties (Congress and SP) are allies at present and Yadav and Rahul Gandhi campaigned together for the recently-concluded Lok Sabha polls, the two are also potential rivals in Uttar Pradesh and equations can change before the next assembly elections in the state in early 2027.   

    That is why the top leadership of the Congress wants to cement the alliance with the Trinamool, especially since it wants to put Rahul Gandhi in a leadership role. Akhilesh Yadav is unlikely to be very happy about such a projection since he, too, harbours national ambitions. 

    Mamata Banerjee, the astute politician that she is, realises this and has, thus, laid down some tough conditions in return for her complete support to the Congress. 

    Rein In Bengal Congress

    The Bengal CM told Chidambaram that the Congress in Bengal has to stop playing the role of her fierce critic. 

    “It is simply untenable for the Trinamool Congress to be part of an alliance at the national level and have a major constituent of the alliance (the Congress) pitted against us in Bengal. The Congress cannot be a vociferous opposition to the Trinamool at the state level. These double standards won’t work. This is what our party chairperson told Chidambaram,” a senior Trinamool Congress leader who is also a Rajya Sabha MP told Swarajya.

    Chidambaram is said to have assured Mamata Banerjee that the Bengal Congress will pipe down its criticism of the Trinamool from now on. He told the Trinamool chief that since Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has lost the Lok Sabha polls from Baharampur (in Bengal), this fierce critic of Banerjee is now out of her way. 

    But Mamata Banerjee is understood to have told Chidambaram that Chowdhury needs to be divested of his organisational posts and also asked to desist from attacking her and her party. Chowdhury is at present the acting president of the Bengal unit of the Congress. 

    Chowdhury had criticised the alliance between his party and the Trinamool Congress at the national level during campaigning, earning a sharp rebuke from party president Mallikarjun Kharge who told the Bengal Congress leader that he is no one to comment on the party’s policies. 

    Chidambaram assured Mamata Banerjee that Chowdhury will be told in no uncertain terms to stop criticising and attacking the Trinamool Congress. 

    Snap Ties With Left In Bengal

    But he did not offer a concrete response to Mamata Banerjee’s proposal that the Congress should break its alliance with the CPI(M)-led Left Front in Bengal and align, instead, with the Trinamool Congress. 

    That’s because Chidambaram is aware that a large section of leaders and functionaries in the Bengal unit of his party are opposed to any understanding with the Trinamool Congress at the state level. 

    The two parties were allies and had fought the 2011 assembly elections together. But the Trinamool Congress started wooing away Congress MLAs and functionaries, and Trinamool goons also launched unprovoked attacks on Congress workers and supporters. 

    Hundreds of Congress workers and supporters were injured and driven out of their homes during months of continuous attacks by Trinamool goons. This caused a rupture between the two parties and turned many Congress leaders and functionaries into implacable foes of the Trinamool. 

    Anti-Trinamool sentiments still run very strong and deep within the state unit of the Congress and it will not be easy for the Central leadership of the party to steer the state unit towards an alliance with the Trinamool. 

    That’s why Chidambaram did not commit his party to any assurance of an alliance with the Trinamool in Bengal. Instead, he is learnt to have pointed out to Mamata Banerjee that two parties can be rivals in a state and yet be allies at the national level. 

    Chidambaram cited the example of Kerala where the Left and the Congress are fierce rivals, but close allies at the national level. 

    Mamata Banerjee is learnt to have told Chidambaram that what works between the Congress and Left in Kerala won’t work between the Congress and her party in Bengal. She said that in Bengal, it’s “either you (the Congress) are with us or against us”. 

    Limit Left’s Outsized Influence Within INDI Alliance

    Banerjee also said that she is opposed to the outsized influence of the CPI(M)-led Left in the INDI Alliance and the Congress should curb this influence. 

    Banerjee pointed out that the Left has a mere seven seats in the Lok Sabha — the CPI(M) has four MPs, the CPI has two MPs and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) has a lone MP. However, the Left wields a lot of influence within the INDI Alliance and often lays down the agenda of the alliance. 

    The Bengal Chief Minister told Chidambaran that the Left’s influence within the INDI Alliance needs to be pared down and the Congress leadership should not be swayed by what the Left says. 

    Mamata Banerjee is especially miffed over CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury playing a pivotal role in the INDI Alliance.

    “The CPI(M) often lays down the agenda of the alliance and this is completely unacceptable to our chairperson,” said the Rajya Sabha MP. 

    The Trinamool chairperson is also unhappy with CPI(M) leaders from Bengal like Mohammad Salim and Nilotpal Basu enjoying easy access to the top Congress leadership. She is learnt to have told Chidambaram that all allies should be given importance according to their strength and she won’t stand for the CPI(M)’s views being given more importance than that of the Trinamool.

    Chidambaram is learnt to have assured Mamata Banerjee that he will convey her concerns to his party’s ‘high command’. 

    But humouring Mamata Banerjee on this won’t be easy for the Congress leadership. Most of Rahul Gandhi’s close aides are far-left activists and some, like Kanhaiya Kumar, are imports from the CPI and CPI(M). The coterie around Rahul Gandhi which wields complete influence over him and lays down his political agenda is completely leftist and has organic links with the two communist parties. 

    Thus, limiting the oversized Left influence will not be easy for the Congress leadership which is itself in the firm grip of communists.  

    A Congress leader who is also a former Rajya Sabha MP told Swarajya that the state unit of the party (the Congress) will split if the party ‘high command’ asks it to cut ties with the CPI(M) and get into an alliance with the Trinamool Congress. 

    “Aligning with the Trinamool will be suicidal for the Congress in Bengal. The party will be completely wiped out from the state, and we cannot allow that to happen. If the Bengal Congress is forced into an alliance with the Trinamool, the party will split and a majority of Bengal Congress leaders and functionaries will quit the party and maybe form their own party,” he said. 

    The Congress ‘high command’ will, thus, find it extremely difficult to honour Mamata Banerjee’s conditions. And that will keep Congress-Trinamool ties testy. 

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