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regular-article-logo Sunday, 23 June 2024

Mamata Banerjee in INDIA? Congress dilemma in Bengal spills out as Mallikarjun Kharge says ‘Adhir Chowdhury no one to decide’

Party president and state unit chief differ over whether the chief minister is onboard the Opposition alliance against BJP-led NDA

Arnab Ganguly Published 18.05.24, 02:20 PM

Screenshot from Shiv Sena UBT YouTube Channel

The Congress party’s dilemma over Mamata Banerjee spilled out in the open on Saturday as party president Mallikarjun Kharge called out state unit president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for his relentless attack on the Bengal chief minister.

The Congress high command will decide on Mamata’s inclusion in the alliance, not Chowdhury, Kharge said in response to a journalist’s question on the possibility of Mamata supporting an INDI alliance government at the Centre.

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The Congress president was speaking at a press meet in Mumbai on Saturday morning. Other leaders of the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition were present.

“Mamata is with the alliance,” Kharge said. “Adhir Chowdhury is no one to decide. We, the Congress party and the high command will decide. If someone does not fall in line with the high command’s decision, they will be out.”

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury File

Kharge claimed that the Trinamul chief had decided on joining the government if the INDIA bloc was voted to power.

Kharge pointed out that during the UPA-I government, the Left parties, too, had supported the Congress from outside.

In response to his party chief's comment, Adhir Chowdhury said his opposition to Mamata was not personal.

“I cannot join forces with someone who is trying to destroy my party,” he said in response to a journalist’s question. “My fight [against Mamata] is ethical, not personal. My opposition is to protect my party in Bengal. I am a footsoldier of the Congress and cannot stop my fight.”

Mamata Banerjee’s signals to INDIA bloc

At a meeting in Hooghly’s Arambagh Mamata reiterated, there is no alliance in Bengal. “BJP-CPM-Congress have created a mess in Bengal. At the national level we are with INDI alliance. Remember I gave the name. If our government comes to power we will remove CAA, NRC. They have already lost,” she said. “Iss baar INDIA jot ka sarkaar (This time INDI Alliance government). Don’t give your vote to Congress or CPM. I am enough to take on the BJP in Bengal.”

Though earlier this week, Mamata had said she was ready to give outside support if the Opposition alliance could muster enough seats to stake claims to form the next government at the Centre, she later claimed that her statement was misconstrued.

She did not offer any further explanation.

The dilemma is as much Mamata’s as of the Congress high command. In the INDIA bloc meetings that she attended in Patna, Bangalore and Mumbai, both Bengal Congress president Adhir Chowdhury – her critic for a fairly long time – as well as the CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury were present too.

Mamata opened her attack on the state Congress leaders when the talks for a seat-sharing agreement failed. She was ready to offer two seats that the Congress had won in Bengal in 2019, whereas the Congress’s demand was for at least 12.

Following a seat adjustment with the Left, the Congress is contesting in 13 seats.

In January, while Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra was on its way towards Bengal, Mamata had accused the Congress of belittling her contribution in the formation of the Opposition alliance.

Announcing the Trinamul’s decision to go solo in Bengal, she went on to claim the Congress would not get more than 40 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Mamata had also accused the Congress of trying to eat into the Muslim votes in the state. The community is believed to have voted en masse for her in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 Assembly polls.

Why Mamata needs INDIA

For all her belligerence, the Bengal chief minister too cannot snap her ties completely with the alliance, as it could be interpreted as the possibility of her supporting the BJP in case the saffron party too needs her support. Any hint of such a possibility could have an adverse impact on the Muslim support for the Trinamool.

Mamata has taken a middle line, saying in Bengal the INDI alliance does not exist.

On May 5, addressing a public meeting at Malda, Kharge had accepted that Mamata was trying to weaken the Congress in Bengal.

“Just like Narendra Modi, Mamata too is active in weakening the Congress,” Kharge had said. “I am telling the Trinamul voters not to waste their votes on that party. They cannot defeat BJP and come to power on their own, only the Congress can.”

Many in the Bengal Congress felt it was an indication that the high command had finally come around to accept their stand on Mamata.

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