No PM candidate for INDIA bloc; open to Left-Congress-TMC alliance in West Bengal: Mamata Banerjee

She refused to answer questions on the caste census or the Congress debacle in the recent Assembly polls, and also ruled out the BSP’s entry into the INDIA bloc; she is in Delhi for Tuesday’s INDIA meeting

Updated - December 18, 2023 11:10 pm IST

Published - December 18, 2023 11:00 pm IST - NEW DELHI

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee addresses the media at Kolkata International Airport on December 17, 2023.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee addresses the media at Kolkata International Airport on December 17, 2023. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Trinamool Congress is open to a “three-way alliance” with both the Congress and the Left in West Bengal, party president and State Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Monday, adding that she was against any projection of a common Opposition Prime Ministerial candidate ahead of the Lok Sabha election.

She was speaking to a select group of reporters in Delhi, where she has arrived to participate in the Opposition’s INDIA bloc meeting on Tuesday.

Ms. Banerjee refused to comment on the demand for a caste census which the Congress had made a rallying point during its campaign for the recent Assembly elections. She also ruled out any possibility of Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati joining the INDIA bloc. 

‘TMC can work with anybody’

Faced with a barrage of questions about the seat-sharing equation in her home State, Ms. Banerjee said that “someone will have to bell the cat.” The Congress and the Left parties had fought the last Assembly election there in alliance with each other. The Congress currently holds two Lok Sabha seats out of the 42 in the State; the Left has none. To a specific question on whether a “three-way alliance” between the Congress, Left, and the TMC is possible, she said, “I don’t have any grievance with anybody. TMC can work with anybody.” They, she said, would have to mentally prepare, because they had been working with the BJP so far. 

In previous meetings of the INDIA bloc, including at the last meeting in Mumbai, Ms. Banerjee has been insisting that a seat-sharing formula needs to be cracked at the earliest for the alliance to be an effective vehicle for the Opposition in the 2024 election. This formula is now the top priority for all parties at Tuesday’s meeting. Ms. Banerjee, however, warned that it may not be simple, but that a broad policy could be agreed upon. Asked if the delay would cost the alliance dear, she only said, “Better late than never.”  

Post-poll PM talks

The Trinamool chief rejected the idea of projecting a common Prime Ministerial face against incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is aiming for a third consecutive term. Citing examples of other coalition Prime Ministers, such as Deve Gowda and I.K Gujral, she said that a similar template of consultations post elections would be followed. 

Insisting that the Trinamool Congress was committed to the idea of Opposition unity, she ducked all questions on the Congress’ recent debacle in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. “The anti-BJP voters will unite, if we the leaders of the Opposition parties can unite,” she said. And while conducting any seat-sharing talks, she said, the first priority has to be the “people of the country”.

At least twice, Ms. Banerjee was asked about a caste census and whether it would be a central theme of the Opposition campaign, but she resolutely refused to answer the question. At the last INDIA meet in Mumbai, she had objected to using the demand for a caste census as a major campaign point. 

On the question of Ms. Mayawati, Ms. Banerjee responded without missing a beat, saying that the BSP chief would not join, because she had “her own problems”. She added: “Every party is under pressure from the Central investigating agencies.”

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