Congress-Trinamool ties | Adversarial rather than amicable

The Congress and Trinamool Congress struggle to find common ground in ahead of the Lok Sabha polls

Updated - January 18, 2024 11:21 am IST

Published - January 18, 2024 01:10 am IST

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addresses a press conference at Nabanna in Howrah on January 16, 2024. Photo: WB CMO via PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addresses a press conference at Nabanna in Howrah on January 16, 2024. Photo: WB CMO via PTI

In the last week of January, when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra will enter West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress leadership is likely to give it a miss. From the start, the Trinamool had made it clear that it would not join the Congress party’s yatra, on account of not being properly invited to join the event and other reasons. Though Congress and Trinamool are both part of the Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) Opposition bloc, the relationship between the two parties has been rocky.

Since she broke away from the Congress party in 1998 to set up Trinamool Congress, party chairperson Mamata Banerjee has often accused the former of not being able to put up a fight against the Left parties in West Bengal till 2011 and against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre.

The only period of respite from the adversary was in 2009-2012 when the Trinamool was part of the Congress-led UPA-II government at the Centre and the two parties came together to defeat the 34-year Left Front government in West Bengal. A year after Trinamool came to power in the State in 2011, it withdrew support for the UPA-II coalition and Congress Ministers resigned from the Mamata Banerjee-led government in West Bengal.

Constant rivalry

The Trinamool’s 12-year rule in West Bengal is marked by the poaching of dozens of Congress legislators and leaders using the carrot-and-stick approach. The party has wrested control of every civic body won by the Congress by engineering defections using fear and favour. Over the years, the Congress party’s influence has also gradually been limited to the districts of Malda and Murshidabad.

Even as Congress’s vote share has been diminishing in the State, with the leaders losing their constituency, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has emerged as the only leader to taste success. The five-time Congress MP from Baharampur in Murshidabad district, Mr. Chowdhury is also one of the most vocal critics of Ms. Banerjee. The Congress party’s leader in Lok Sabha, also State Congress chief, has stated that Trinamool needs Congress more than the Congress needs Trinamool. So, it is no surprise that he is not agreeable to the Trinamool’s seat-sharing formula for this year’s Lok Sabha polls. While Trinamool is willing to part with only two seats — Baharampur and Malda Dakshin where the Congress won in 2019, Mr. Chowdhury wants to put candidates in at least six seats.

Mr. Chowdhury’s personal aversion to Ms. Banerjee’s style of governance has made his politics more anti-Trinamool than being opposed to the BJP. Even in the 2011 Assembly polls in West Bengal, when Trinamool and Congress joined hands against the CPI(M)-led Left Front, he had pitted his candidates against official candidates of the alliance in Murshidabad district. His political future rests on whether he can defend his fiefdom of Baharampur in the upcoming polls.

Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress has made significant inroads in Malda and Murshidabad districts and does not mind taking on the Congress in the 2024 polls. A section of the leaders of both parties does not want any electoral alliance with the other.

The State’s ruling party sees any increase in the support base of the Congress, particularly in the minority-dominated regions like Malda and Murshidabad, as a threat. After the Left-supported Congress candidate defeated the Trinamool candidate at the Sagardighi bypolls in 2023, it ensured that the elected Congress MLA defected to Trinamool.

The BJP factor

Since 2016, West Bengal has witnessed the rise of the BJP, which has emerged as the principal Opposition party. There have been several instances when the Congress and CPI(M) joined the BJP to take on the Trinamool government over issues of conflict. The violence in last year’s panchayat polls, where several Congress supporters were killed allegedly by Trinamool cadre, also makes it difficult for the two parties to come together and contest Lok Sabha polls under an electoral understanding.

Over the past few weeks, Trinamool spokespersons have regularly been targeting the West Bengal Congress for demanding more than two seats. They keep reminding the Congress leadership that the party had failed to win even a single seat in the 2021 Assembly polls, despite allying with CPI(M) and the Indian Secular Front.

With Congress and Trinamool coming together under the INDIA bloc banner, leaders of both parties were expected to rise over local considerations to pose a challenge to the BJP. However, neither the State Congress leadership nor Trinamool’s top brass is willing to concede any ground. The CPI(M) leadership in West Bengal has already made it clear that it will not join any alliance with Trinamool and is trying to reach out to the Congress instead.

While it remains to be seen whether the Trinamool or the BJP will gain from a three-cornered contest in West Bengal in 2024 — and the Congress and Trinamool not being able to agree on a seat-sharing formula — the promise of a united Opposition at the national level will not have any takers as far as the electorate of the State is concerned.

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