Mamata, Akhilesh agree to maintain ‘equal distance’ from BJP, Congress
The TMC announced that Mamata Banerjee will travel to Odisha next week to meet her counterpart Naveen Patnaik as part of her plans to talk to parties that can defeat the BJP
West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee met Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav in Kolkata on Friday and both parties later announced that they will maintain equal distance from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress while continuing to reach out to other outfits, marking the first stirrings of an Opposition effort to forge a common platform ahead of the 2024 general elections.
The TMC announced that Banerjee will travel to Odisha next week to meet her counterpart Naveen Patnaik as part of her plans to talk to parties that can defeat the BJP.
“We will maintain equal distance from the Congress and BJP… Mamata Banerjee will hold dialogues with parties that are capable of defeating BJP in their own states. She will meet Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on March 23 and meet leaders of other parties when she visits Delhi in the last week of March or early-April,” said TMC parliamentarian Sudip Bandyopadhyay. “Congress should not feel that they are the big boss of the Opposition front,” he added.
Yadav echoed him. “In Bengal, we are with Mamata didi. Right now, our stand is to maintain equidistance from both the BJP and the Congress. Does Congress have any stake in Uttar Pradesh? We will continue our fight against the BJP,” he said after a closed-door meeting with Banerjee in Kolkata.
When asked about the role of the Congress in the Opposition front, Yadav said the party had to decide on its own. “Regional parties are competent enough to decide their roles. The Congress has to decide its role. Nobody should take any step which might have any adverse impact (on fighting the BJP),” he said, while adding that there were several faces in the Opposition camp who could become prime minister.
When asked about a possible third front, Bandyopadhyay said they were not talking about forming a third front at the moment. Yadav, however, appeared more open. Asked whether recent developments pointed at the emergence of a third front, he said, “You may choose to call it a front, an alliance or a mahagathbandhan (grand alliance). Something will surely emerge because everyone wants parivartan (change).”
The announcement marks the beginning of efforts by a section of Opposition leaders to form a common platform ahead of the 2024 elections. HT had reported on March 15 that a group of leaders are trying to get eight Opposition parties whose leaders wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 5 against what they saw as the blatant misuse of central agencies, to work in unison. The Congress did not figure in these plans. If these plans come to fruition, it could see the emergence of an opposition grouping spanning several states. To be sure, in the past, such efforts to forge a coalition of regional parties have not tasted success at the national level.
After the meeting, Bandyopadhyay said that the Congress, BJP and the Left were working together against the TMC in Bengal. This came days after a shocking bypoll loss in Bengal and ahead of local-body polls in the state. Comments by Congress’s Lok Sabha floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury against Banerjee have also damaged ties between the two parties, who were once allies but have moved away from each other in recent years. Bandyopadhyay also dismissed the Congress’s allegation that the TMC contested the recent assembly polls in Goa, Tripura and Meghalaya only to help the BJP by splitting Opposition votes. The allegation was raised by Rahul Gandhi and several Congress leaders.
“The total number of Lok Sabha seats in these states will be less than 20. Let’s look at bigger states such as Uttar Pradesh and Odisha. Let the strongest opposition parties in these states fight the BJP (in 2024). Nobody is stopping Congress from contesting alone in Karnataka,” Bandyopadhyay said. “BJP wants Rahul Gandhi to become the face of the Opposition because that will help them,” he said. “We don’t know what role the Congress is playing as an opposition party in the rest of India but in Bengal, it is working closely with BJP to put our government in danger.”
The development came 48 hours after the TMC and the Nationalist Congress Party skipped a march of Opposition parties led by the Congress to the Enforcement Directorate office in Delhi over the Adani issue.
Chowdhury reacted sharply on Friday evening. “Mamata Banerjee is losing her mask very fast. The Modi-Mamata alliance is getting exposed. The entire country can see that Rahul Gandhi is in the focus of the BJP’s attack. It is not Mamata Banerjee,” Chowdhury said. BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh said, “Mamata Banerjee tried to forge similar alliances in the past. She will fail again.”