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TMC will expand its footprint whether “one party” likes it or not: Abhishek Banerjee

General secretary of the Trinamool Congress Abhishek Banerjee. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Trinamool Congress will expand its footprint across the country whether “one party” likes it or not, party national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee told The Hindu in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

Mr Banerjee said that ultimately, in a democracy, the voter is the final arbitrator. The TMC has skipped all Opposition meetings in the ongoing winter session of Parliament, not willing to sit in a meeting chaired by the Congress party. However, Mr. Banerjee insisted that the TMC was not aloof , saying: “We have been the fulcrum of Opposition whether one likes it or not.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently had said that the UPA does not exist any longer. The TMC is also accused of cannibalising the Congress, poaching their leaders instead of carving out space for itself. Mr Banerjee said, “When TMC steps into other states, we are told that we are pulverising the Congress and when Congress does the same thing, no such charge is levelled against them. There can’t be different standards for different people. My advice to them is please practice what you preach.”

The reins of the opposition can no longer be left to the Congress, he said. We have been sitting quietly for the last seven-years, without stepping out of Bengal. But the fact is, we cannot depend on a force which doesn’t act”.

There are many speculations going on that many of the disgruntled Congress leaders may join the TMC. Mr Banerjee refused to comment on the issue beyond saying, “Let’s wait for the right time. I would like to leave the speculations alive”.

He also spoke at length about the expansion plans for his party. The TMC is right now working in Tripura, Goa and Meghalaya. “In the next three-four months, we should have working units in five-six other states including Haryana, UP, Himachal Pradesh and Assam,” he said.

Excerpts from interview

We will expand our presence, whether one party likes it or not

Sitting at the Gandhi statue in the Parliament complex along with other Opposition lawmakers protesting against the suspension of 12 Rajya Sabha MPs, the national general secretary of the Trinamool Congress Abhishek Banerjee pointed his party’s growing vote share, saying ‘attracts’ leaders from other parties rather than ‘poach’ them.

The TMC has been aloof from the rest of the Opposition in this Parliament session. Why is that?

Trinamool is not aloof at all! We have been the fulcrum of the Opposition whether one likes it or not. Let the people decide what will happen and when. We are expanding our party’s presence across the country; we have gone into Tripura, Goa, Meghalaya and Haryana. Our party will keep on expanding its footprint, whether one party likes it or not. In a healthy democracy, it is the people who take the call.

So far it looks like you are out to cannibalise the Congress rather than building space for yourself. Your comments?

The Congress did an alliance with a radical organisation in West Bengal in cahoots with the Left to oust Mamata Banerjee’s government. Doesn’t that amount to breaking Opposition unity? When the Congress poaches the AAP MLAs in Punjab, isn’t it hurting the opposition unity? And Trinamool does not poach. We attract. There is a difference.

Now take Tripura for example, what is the Congress standing there? It does not command even 5% vote share. In fact, in the last municipal polls, they are down to 1%. Three months back we started out from scratch and today we are the primary opposition party, with 24% cumulative aggregate vote share. When the TMC steps into other States, we are told that we are pulverising the Congress; but when the Congress does the same thing, no such charge is levelled against them. There can’t be different standards for different people. My advice to them is please practice what you preach.

Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee have shared a very warm relationship for years, but the TMC’s efforts to displace Congress as the lead Opposition party has created bitterness. Your comments.

There is no bitterness. We have been sitting quietly for the last seven years, without stepping out of Bengal. But the fact is, we cannot depend on a force which doesn’t act. Of course, Soniaji and Didi share a warm relationship, but that does not and should not rob us of the right to expand our presence. If the Congress can do it, so can we.

Why now?

TMC has attempted to go national in the past as well, we did work in Tripura, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. Like I said when I became the national general secretary of the party, our attempt this time to go national, will be very different from what was attempted in the past. We want to be a platform of choice for the people.

In 2022, five States are going for polls. How many of these will the TMC be contesting? Will you field your candidates in Uttar Pradesh Assembly election too?

Mamataji has made it very clear, we will not be participating in the U.P. Assembly election. But we will definitely be contesting seats in U.P. during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. TMC right now is working in three States — Tripura, Goa and Meghalaya. In the next three-four months, we should have working units in five or six other States including Haryana, U.P., Himachal Pradesh and Assam.

On what basis is the party deciding which States to enter? Is the choice based on the relative health or ill health of the Congress in these States?

It is the people who are reaching out to us. We are seen as a party that will not sell its soul to the BJP and will have the spine to stand against them no matter what.

How do you scale the barrier of being a Bengali party?

Narendra Modi was also just the Gujarat Chief Minister before he won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Ultimately, when you are fighting for a bigger cause, these things don’t matter. Slowly, and gradually, people will understand that there is one lady who can take on the BJP, she is Mamata Banerjee. We have already shown that in Bengal and we will show it in other places too. To people, it won’t matter whether we are from Kashmir, Kanyakumari or the Hindi heartland.

Why do you think you will do any better than many other parties who have made similar attempts? AAP has been in Goa for the last ten years now and its record has been dismal. Why would your fate be any different?

I don’t want to get into the intricacies of why the AAP failed or their ambitions. I am sure that TMC will try and offer to people to convince them that we are the party that ultimately delivers on its commitments.

Mamata Banerjee came from the Congress, the TMC was born out of the Congress. Are you now trying to replace the Congress?

It is too early to predict that now, it is ultimately for the people to decide as they deem fit. We will surely, take on the BJP’s might, come what may. We can’t be the one to sit in the comfort of our homes and be a Twitter warrior. We have the fire in our belly and we will fight them out on the ground.

How many of the G-23 and other disgruntled Congress leaders are in touch with you?

Let’s wait for the right time. I would like to leave the speculations alive.


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