West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s national ambitions are intriguing and daring. Soon after she led the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to a stellar victory in the Assembly election earlier this year — third time in a row — she set out on an extension scheme, though no coherent strategy is apparent. There is indeed a personal factor — she was savagely targeted by the BJP during the election. She triumphed over the BJP, still struggling to evolve a suitable politics for its Bengal foray, but it appears that the score was not settled. Ms. Banerjee had sensed the emerging confrontation between her politics and the BJP’s early on. In January 2019, she assembled leaders of 23 Opposition parties at a public meeting at Brigade Parade Grounds in Kolkata, where they pledged to defeat the BJP. Her victory over the BJP was conclusive, but the BJP is waiting in the wings to unseat her, having grown to about 70 seats in the Assembly from three in 2016. The Trinamool leader claims she is trying to take the fight to the enemy, her focus right now being Tripura and Goa, where the BJP is in power. There is a large Bengali population in Tripura, and the BJP is unnerved. In both States and beyond, the TMC is recruiting disgruntled leaders from other parties and free-floaters.
The party is driven by Ms. Banerjee’s charisma rather than an ideology. The TMC has swung both ways — alternating between the BJP and the Congress in the past. The Bengal government run by the party does not shy away from celebrating the anniversary of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of Jana Sangha, as a proud son of Bengal. Though the edge of her politics is anti-BJP at the moment for strategic considerations, it is the Opposition parties, particularly the Congress that is paying for her expansion spree. Between 2011 and 2021, the entire rank and file of the Congress shifted to the TMC in West Bengal, and the story is being repeated now in other States. On Wednesday, 12 of the 17 Congress MLAs in Meghalaya joined the TMC . Sushmita Dev and Luizinho Faleiro , defectors from the Congress, are central to the TMC plans in Tripura and Goa, respectively. The induction of Ashok Tanwar , a former Congress MP from Haryana, and a Dalit, may signify a broader plan for the Hindi States. Dalit politics is at a crossroads in the heartland as the BSP is facing extinction, and there is vacuum to be filled. Ms. Banerjee has been outspoken on questions regarding federalism, and the Centre’s unilateralism that undermines it. Whether all this is sufficient to catapult the TMC as the axis of anti-BJP politics nationally is an open question. At the moment, the TMC challenge is less to the BJP and more to the Congress.