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Trinamul Congress to abstain from voting in vice-presidential poll

Announcement draws ridicule as Left and Congress allege a secret understanding between BJP and TMC
Mamata Banerjee addresses a record gathering at the July 21 rally in Esplanade.
Mamata Banerjee addresses a record gathering at the July 21 rally in Esplanade.
Pradip Sanyal

Devadeep Purohit, Meghdeep Bhattacharyya   |   Calcutta   |   Published 22.07.22, 02:28 AM

The Trinamul Congress on Thursday announced its decision to abstain from voting in the vice-presidential election scheduled on August 6.

The stand, announced by the party’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, overshadowed chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s fervent anti-BJP diatribe earlier in the day at the July 21 mega-rally in Esplanade and generated an impression that the political message had been diluted.

The announcement drew ridicule from the Left and the Congress who alleged a secret entente between the BJP and Trinamul.

“As long as Jagdeep Dhankhar was the governor of Bengal, he behaved in a one-sided manner and was biased towards the BJP. So, we have decided that there is no way in which we can support Dhankhar’s candidature,” Abhishek said.

He made the announcement after emerging, along with Trinamul’s leader in the Lok Sabha Sudip Bandyopadhyay, from a meeting at Mamata’s residence to decide on the vice-presidential election and the party’s parliamentary strategy for the ongoing monsoon session.

“The way the name of Margaret Alva, the Opposition candidate, was decided, Trinamul feels the decision was not democratic…. More so, given how we -– despite having a total strength of 35 members in both Houses of Parliament -– were not consulted before the announcement,” Abhishek added.

“Our party has decided to abstain from the upcoming vice-presidential election.”

As only MPs from the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha vote in the vice-presidential election – while MPs and MLAs vote in the presidential election -- the abstention is likely to favour Dhankhar as the NDA lacks a majority in the Upper House. The battle for the post of Vice-President is much closer than the presidential election was, although Dhankhar is tipped to win.

Abhishek, however, refused to buy the argument that the Trinamul decision would help the BJP.

Thirty-two of Trinamul’s 35 MPs – everyone other than Mathurapur MP C.M. Jatua, and Rajya Sabha members Subrata Bakshi and Sukhendu Sekhar Roy – attended the meeting.

Mamata, who did not refer to the vice-presidential election in her July 21 rally address, was to finalise her party’s stand on the contest between Dhankhar and Alva.

“Over 85 per cent of the MPs who attended the meeting urged her to abstain from the election,” said Abhishek, suggesting that 27 of the 32 MPs present backed the abstention.

The emphasis on the collectiveness of the decision and Mamata’s absence from the news conference, a source said, suggested her wish to publicly distance herself from direct responsibility.

As many as 17 Opposition parties, except Trinamul and a few others, had jointly announced Congress veteran Alva as their candidate following a meeting at the home of NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Sunday.

The Trinamul decision will affect Opposition unity, a political observer said, referring to how the entire Opposition had supported Yashwant Sinha, who had resigned from Mamata’s party to contest the presidential election.

“I would like to congratulate Hon’ble Presidential Elect Smt Draupadi Murmu,” Mamata tweeted in the evening. “The country will sincerely look up to you as the Head of State to protect the ideals of our Constitution & be the custodian of our democracy, especially when the nation is plagued with so many dissensions.”

While the Trinamul camp said the party’s decision on the Vice-President’s election would not have any political impact as there are no elections in the next 10 to 11 months, some observers think that the decision would hurt the party’s image, especially that of Mamata, and isolate her in the Opposition camp.

Abhishek — who took care to answer all the questions in the news conference — said that Trinamul’s abstention did not mean that Opposition unity had been compromised.

He said Trinamul would be “far more aggressive” in the days to come.

The Congress and the Left attacked the ruling party in Bengal, referring to the July 13 meeting between Mamata, Dhankhar and Assam’s BJP chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma at the Darjeeling Raj Bhavan.

But Abhishek said: “We went to Goa, a BJP-ruled state. We went to Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya, all BJP-ruled states. Trinamul is the only party that is taking the BJP head-on. If you think that by abstaining we are helping someone, it’s a (claim) that we will bust,” he said.

Asked whether Trinamul was holding the Congress responsible, he said: “We will not engage in nit-picking or blame the Congress, CPM or the DMK at this point. We had proposed four-five names as the vice-presidential candidate, and a consultation process was on. But the name of Margaret Alva was announced haphazardly, at a meeting suddenly shifted to Mr Pawar’s residence.

“For the record, Margaret Alva shares a very good personal equation with Mamata Banerjee. But the Vice-President of the country isn’t going to be elected based on personal equations.”

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