Earlier, it was the Bengal Pradesh Congress leadership which kept venting its no-compromise stand with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress. But the Byron Biswas episode, which currently seems to have dragged the party’s central leadership in condemning Didi’s role in the alleged “poaching” of the Sagardighi MLA, has raised a fresh question on the future prospects of Mamata's problematic relationship with the grand old party at the national level.
All this, ahead of the June 12 scheduled meeting of Opposition parties in Patna where the Trinamul supremo has already confirmed her presence and which the Congress hasn’t given any indication of skipping.
Biswas, a beedi baron from Murshidabad and the lone Congress MLA in Bengal, jumped ship to the Trinamul Congress on Monday in the presence of the state’s ruling party national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee at Ghatal, West Midnapore, barely three months after he won the Sagardighi Assembly by-polls on a Congress ticket and with support from the Left.
Biswas, on his part, claimed that the Congress played “no role in his victory” and that it was his “individual popularity” which saw him through.
On Tuesday, senior Congress leader and spokesperson Jairam Ramesh lashed out at the Trinamul. In a tweet, Ramesh called the act a “complete betrayal of the mandate of the people of the Sagardighi” and that such acts of “poaching by the TMC” were both detrimental to Opposition unity and “serves the BJP’s objectives”.
Mamata, however, chose to underplay the development while stressing on the need to fulfill her party’s national ambitions. “I think we are all together at the national level. But all parties should understand that state parties have their own obligation. We have only contested in Meghalaya and Goa. But when Congress contested Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh we never disturbed (them). Rather we supported them,” she said at state secretariat Nabanna, a few hours after Ramesh’s tweet.
“That’s why I don’t have a comment to make about someone who may have said something. It’s his freedom. But my word is final. Yes, one MLA from Congress has joined us. But how many seats did you contest from various parts of the country where we never asked for even a single seat?” she remarked, referring to her political understanding with the Congress in the past.
“You must understand that you and BJP cannot be the only national parties. How can we become a national party if we don’t contest in 4-5 states? It is not only about winning elections, it’s also about the vote percentage which can allow us to get that status,” Mamata continued.
“The Election Commission has wronged us. We were granted national party status till 2026, but they disqualified us by making an early review. That’s not proper, right? All we want is to have our presence in small numbers in 3-4 places in the country so that we too are able to maintain national party status. That cannot be their monopoly. I thank Jairam Ramesh for his comments about the Trinamul Congress. I will thank whoever criticizes me on this,” the Trinamul supremo said.
Over the last six years, ever since Trinamul Congress sought to establish its political footprint beyond the boundaries of Bengal, it managed to break several leaders away from the Congress in states like Tripura, Manipur, Meghalaya and Goa only, in turn, to lose them to the BJP.
In August 2017, six TMC MLAs in Tripura, all former Congress leaders -- including Sudip Roy Burman-- joined the BJP after they were axed for violating party diktat and voting in favour of the NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind. Earlier this year, TMC’s former Tripura president Subal Bhowmik also followed suit. In 2022, TMC lost its lone MLA in Manipur, T Robindro Singh, to the BJP ahead of the state polls.
In Goa, following its disappointing performance in the Assembly elections last year, the party has dropped its prime face Luizinho Falerio – the former two-term Congress chief minister of the state – from both state committee and the Rajya Sabha. Several senior party functionaries who joined TMC from Congress like Joseph Sequeira have also moved to the BJP in that state. In Meghalaya, the Trinamul lost at least one MLA who switched from the Congress to the BJP in the run up to the state polls in December last year. TMC became the biggest Opposition party in Meghalaya after 12 Congress MLAs led by former chief minister Mukul Sangma joined it in November 2021. On Byron Biswas’s switch over, Mamata claimed she wasn’t aware of the details. “I am not privy to this, I too read it in the papers. This question should be asked to the local party at the block level. I don’t get involved in such things,” she said.
She did, however, confirm her attendance at the June 12 Opposition meet in Patna. “Nitish Kumar asked me yesterday and I confirmed my participation. I am going,” she said.
“When Nitishji came here we decided that the meeting should be in Patna because the Jay Prakash Narayan movement started from there and it also falls under the Hindi belt. We did many meetings in Delhi but there’s been no follow up. I requested Nitish ji to call the meeting in Patna and those who feel the need to come would come there. We have jointly boycotted the inauguration ceremony of the new Parliament building and also the Niti Ayog meeting. Some wanted the meeting to happen in Delhi but they should realize that regional party meets should also take place at regional centres. So we’ve decided to start the process from Patna. Later we may do this in other states as well,” Banerjee said.
Asked whether the party has received any feelers from the Congress on whether or not it would be present in Patna, a senior Trinamul Parliamentarian said, “They will be foolish not to.”
The Trinamul chief was dismissive of the Congress in the state. “Do the Left, saffron and Congress ever stop doing disruptive politics? They were and will forever remain together. Let them be so. They are like three flowers in one garland, rather like thorns in a tree. They never have positive thoughts (in their mind) and we don’t have time to think about them,” Mamata said.