NEW DELHI, Jan 24: The move for an united opposition fight under the INDIA bloc against the ruling BJP in the Lok Sabha elections seems to be crumbling down with the Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party rejecting any alliance with the Congress in West Bengal and Punjab respectively even as the Congress leaders maintained that all the differences will be sorted out amicably.
The unity move suffered back-to-back setbacks on Wednesday within hours with the AAP declaring that it would contest all the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, shortly after the TMC chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee ruling out any alliance with Congress in her state.
“The Aam Aadmi Party has shortlisted 40 candidates for the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab. We are getting a survey done before finalising candidates,” Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said.
The remarks came hours after Ms Banerjee’s explosive announcement that there was no tie-up with the Congress in Bengal and any decision on an alliance at the national level would be taken after the election. “I had no discussions with the Congress. I have always said that in Bengal, we will fight alone. I gave them (Congress) many proposals… but they rejected them. I am not concerned about what will be done in the (rest of the) country… but we are a secular party and, in Bengal, we alone will defeat BJP, she said.”
Ms Banerjee also expressed her displeasure that the Congress had not informed her that its ‘Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra’ would enter the State. “Even as a matter of courtesy they didn’t tell that they are coming to my State. I am part of INDIA alliance,” she said. The Congress Yatra is scheduled to enter West Bengal on January 25. Ms Banerjee said her party was a secular party, she would decide her next course after the elections. “At the all India level what we will do, we will think after elections. We are secular party and will do anything to defeat the BJP,” she said.
The Chief Minister’s remarks come a day after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said his party was in talks with the TMC over seat-sharing in West Bengal. Mr Gandhi has said he has good relations with the TMC chairperson. Over the past few weeks leaders of the Congress and the TMC have been targeting each other. While the TMC has accused the Congress of unrealistic bargaining the Congress has said the TMC needs the Congress more in the elections.
Asked whether she would be part of the INDIA alliance, Ms Banerjee said the alliance is not of one party. “The regional parties we will be all together. We have said they [Congress] should fight alone in 300 seats and leave the remaining to regional parties where they should not interfere. If they interfere in the remaining seats then we will think otherwise,” Ms Banerjee said.
The TMC leadership has offered two seats to the Congress while Congress State leadership was insisting on six. The Congress has two MPs elected from Baharampur and Malda Dakshin. West Bengal sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
The Congress is yet to respond to Mr Mann’s announcement but to Ms Banerjee’s outburst, senior Congress leader KC Venugopal said there would be a Congress-Trinamool alliance in Bengal. “There will be an alliance in West Bengal. Our aim is to decrease BJP seats. We will talk to TMC. Mamata Banerjee is a senior leader in INDIA alliance. These are small differences, will be sorted out.”
Reacting to remarks by the TMC chairperson, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh expressed hope that some way would emerge after discussion. Mr Ramesh described the Chief Minister as a respected leader and said Congress leaders such as Sonia Gandhi and president Mallikarjun Kharge have good ties with the Trinamool chairperson.
The Congress, he said, “cannot imagine the INDIA bloc without Mamataji.” Mr Ramesh’s firefighting efforts also included an outreach over Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra’ which is due to enter Bengal Thursday but skip state capital Kolkata. “Rahul Gandhi has clearly said Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool are very strong pillars of the INDIA alliance. We cannot imagine the INDIA alliance without Mamataji…” Mr Ramesh said.
The Nationalist Congress Party (Sharad Pawar faction) also said on Wednesday that Ms Banerjee’s announcement regarding the TMC’s stand could be part of a “strategy” and stressed the INDIA bloc stands united against the BJP.
“Mamata Banerjee and her party are an important part of the INDIA alliance. They are with us and we will put up a strong fight against BJP. If Mamataji has made a statement, this could be part of a strategy. There are no issues in the INDIA alliance,” Clyde Crasto, national spokesperson of the NCP told reporters. He said the role of regional parties was very important as they would strengthen the Opposition bloc.
The decision by Trinamool and AAP to go solo in their strongholds needs to be seen against the backdrop of a persistent tussle between the Congress and regional forces within the INDIA bloc.
While regional parties, specifically Trinamool, AAP and Samajwadi Party, have repeatedly demanded the leading role in their respective bastions, the Congress, determined to play the big brother role, has pushed for a bigger pie during seat-sharing talks at the state level.
In both Bengal and Punjab, attacks and counter-attacks between the Congress and the ruling party have continued unabated over the past few months, despite claims of unity at INDIA meetings. Both state Congress units – led by Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in Bengal and Amarinder Raja Singh Warring in Punjab – have been opposed to an alliance at the state level and lost no opportunity in hitting out at the state governments.
The regional parties, on their part, are in no mood to cede ground in their strongholds, especially in the wake of Congress setbacks in the recent Assembly polls.