Kolkata, March 17
Both Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Uttar Pradesh’s backwards’ leader Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi party on Friday said the two parties would stay away from both the Congress and BJP and indicated possible talks with other regional players ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Banerjee met Yadav here at her Kalighat residence for a meeting where the two powerful opposition leaders decided “to fight the BJP together” , even as the Congress, M.K Stalin-led DMK which rules Tamil Nadu, Nitish Kumar's JD(U) and Laloo Prasad's RJD as well as Leftist parties have come closer to forming a broad opposition front against the BJP.
TMC also announced it would hold talks with other regional parties in their bid to take on the BJP in the crucial 2024 elections but at the same time denied that it was planning a “third front”, separate from the Congress-led front.
The first off, the mark in announcing an equidistance from the BJP which rules at the Centre and the Congress which has been trying to revive itself through a Bharat Jodo walkathon, was Samajwadi's Akhilesh Yadav who told newspersons after a party meeting here: "In Bengal, we are with Mamata didi (elder sister). Right now, our stand is to maintain equidistance from both the BJP and the Congress. Does Congress have any stake in Uttar Pradesh? We will continue our fight against the BJP." While Banerjee did not issue any statements, her party's spokesperson Sudip Bandopadhyay said TMC would hold deliberations with "powerful regional parties" to formulate a strategy to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election while staying away from the Congress, even as he added in the same breath that his party was not "talking of a third front at the moment".
The BJP in the past two Lok Sabha elections has gained wherever opposition votes have been fragmented and the creation of a political force sans Congress, by far still the largest opposition party, by any name is expected to divide the opposition vote.
Cong no big boss of opposition: TMC
Following the meeting of the two leaders at TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee's residence, Bandopadhyay said, "We will go our own way, maintain distance from the Congress and the BJP. We are not talking about forming any third front at the moment." He also asserted that the "Congress should not feel that it is the big boss of the opposition front." Bandopadhyay also stressed that the TMC is planning to bring together the former allies of the BJP. The TMC itself has been part of the BJP-led NDA during the tenure of the late Atal Behari Vajpayee as prime minister and Banerjee has personal good relations with other regional players who were in the NDA.
Several key allies of the BJP such as Akali Dal in Punjab and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra have parted ways with the NDA. Though analysts also point out that the Shiv Sena has collaborated with the Congress and may not show any great enthusiasm for joining hands with TMC, a party whose influence is limited to just Bengal.
Bandyopadhyay claimed that the Congress which is playing the role of “the C team of BJP” should give regional parties their due honour.
“Mamata Banerjee will meet powerful regional parties to fight the BJP," he said.
TMC Supremo Mamata Banerjee is slated to call on Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president Naveen Patnaik on March 23, he added.
Asked pointedly if the party will consider the Congress as an ally for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the TMC MP said, "In West Bengal, the CP(IM), Congress and the BJP issue statements together, work together. They accuse the Mamata Banerjee government in the same voice. How could we go for an adjustment?” SP to maintain equidistance for now
Samajwadi Party's chief Akhilesh Yadav who has inherited his father Mulayam Singh Yadav's leadership of the backward castes in Uttar Pradesh, the country's largest state, however took a more nuanced stance against the Congress.
While maintaining that the Congress which is planning a second Bharat Jodo Yatra or walk led by Rahul Gandhi from Gujarat to the northeast traversing through his state, is not a factor, Yadav seemingly supported the Congress party's sharp attack on the Adani group as well as tried to deflect an attack on its leader for comments made abroad.
"There is no accountability. Why public money of LIC and SBI was given to someone whose shares are falling daily,” the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister said without naming the Adani Group.
The Centre does not act against such activities but is prompt in sending CBI and ED to harass leaders of opposition parties, he asserted.
Yadav claimed that the saffron camp has come up with a "BJP vaccine" which makes corrupt leaders immune once they join the party.
Reacting to criticism that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been facing over his recent comments in the UK, Yadav wondered why the BJP is silent on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's recent remarks “insulting” B R Ambedkar.
"The BJP is bothered about what a Congress leader has said on foreign soil but is not worried about Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath insulting Babasaheb Ambedkar in his speech," he asserted.
Senior BJP leaders, including Union ministers, have targeted Rahul Gandhi over his remarks that democracy was under threat in India and there is a "full-scale assault" on the country's institutions. However, Congress leaders maintain that Gandhi has justifiably attacked the ruling party's governance.
TMC-SP unity in the works
Samajwadi party's vice president and old Socialist leader Kiranmoy Nanda said after the meeting of the two party chiefs, that the TMC and Samajwadi Party will work unitedly to fight against the BJP nationally.
"It has been decided that the TMC and the SP would work unitedly to fight the BJP. Both the parties would also maintain distance from the Congress," Nanda told PTI after the meeting.
However, the two parties are unlikely to be able to deliver votes for each other and can at best be a fulcrum for other regional parties to join forces as an alternative to the two existing big political forces – the BJP-led NDA and the yet-in-the-works Congress-led opposition front.
The latter front seemed to get a leg up earlier this month, when many opposition leaders met in Chennai to celebrate Stalin's 70th birthday. Opposition leaders such as Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav, Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, and National Conference (NC) leader Farooq Abdullah were among those who came together. Conspicuous by their absence were the Trinamool Congress and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi.
Reacting to TMC and SP's decision, the Leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha, Adhir Chowdhury, said the decision reflects the "true nature of those parties who wants to help the BJP," "You are fighting against the BJP and maintaining equidistance from the TMC. This only reflects the true nature of the parties like the TMC, who are nothing but Trojan horses in the opposition camp," he said.
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