Trinamool Congresswoman (TMC) Leader Mamata Banerjee has gone to an undue effort to expand her party’s footprint nationwide and establish herself as the face of the national opposition ahead of the 2024 elections. In recent weeks, many disgruntled congressional leaders have joined the TMC: in Meghalaya, the Legislative Party of Congress has split vertically with twice Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and 11 other MPs joining the TMC. Earlier this week, Banerjee was in Mumbai, meeting with PCN supremo Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena frontman Aditya Thackeray. She also reached out to civil society in Mumbai and lent her ear to a section of Bollywood. Earlier in the week, she was in Delhi, where she met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP MP Subramanian Swamy. In Mumbai, alongside Pawar, she dismissed the UPA as non-existent – TMC was part of UPA 2 and had six ministers before removing them. In an apparent reference to Rahul Gandhi, she said “you can’t be abroad most of the time”. His poll strategist Prashant Kishor put these into context when he said that opposition congressional leadership is “not an individual’s divine right, especially when the party has lost over 90% of the vote. elections in the last 10 years â.
The response from Congress was, not surprisingly, cranky, with leaders doubting his motives – citing his stint as minister in the Vajpayee cabinet in 2003 and his alliance with the BJP in the 2004 general election. The point is, Banerjee’s review is close to the bone. The problems she points out have been echoed in the past by agitated members of Congress – G23 leaders had called for a full-time party leader and a revitalization of party organization. And, when it comes to the UPA, he doesn’t need a Mamata to explain that after the defeat of the 2019 general election and the rapid contraction of Congress, the UPA has been long buried. He has rarely issued a (joint) statement on a national issue – the repeal of Article 370, the government’s handling of Covid-19, or tensions with China. Banerjee’s forays into what has been considered the domain of Congress – the centrist space of Indian politics – should serve as a wake-up call and prompt the party to pull itself together as the country’s main opposing force. Strong opposition is essential to keep the government on its toes and to hold it accountable for constitutional values.
The TMC, currently confined to West Bengal but with a growing profile in the northeast, is far from reaching the breadth and depth needed to lead the opposition. Politics in a democracy is a competitive and contested space and politicians are free to increase their ambitions. Congress should know that ranting with rage and dismissing the TMC as the BJP B-Team may not be quite the recipe for its rebirth.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 4, 2021 under the title “Didi au travail”.