Times of India | 2 months ago | 26-04-2022 | 01:57 am
Panaji: Amid simmering differences within the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC in Goa, Kavita Kandolkar, the wife of state party president Kiran Kandolkar, quit TMC on Monday. With strong indications that Kiran himself is on his way out, TMC announced that it would restructure the state committee immediately. Kavita’s exit adds to the steady exodus of TMC office-bearers in the aftermath of the February 14 assembly elections. “My workers told me people have not accepted TMC as a party and thus I should resign,” she said. This was their wish and thus I resigned from primary membership of the party,” said Kavita, when asked for the reasons behind her resignation. Kavita, who had unsuccessfully contested the recent polls on the party ticket, also said that the Prashant Kishor-led election strategy group Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) had failed to pay vendors and adhere to the commitments made to suppliers. “IPAC and Prashant Kishore promised many things to people but they did not fulfil the promises. They failed to pay the taxi operators, printers and other small businessmen who are now coming to our doorstep asking for payment. I decided that I don’t want anything to do with TMC,” said Kavita. Soon after Kavita announced her resignation, TMC put out a tweet saying that the party was restructuring the entire AITC-Goa state committee with immediate effect. We have decided to restructure the entire AITC Goa state committee, with immediate effect. A newly-constituted ad-hoc committee will be announced shortly. We take this opportunity to reiterate our solemn commitment towards working for the people of Goa and their well-being, TMC tweeted. Kiran was unavailable for comment but a TMC senior functionary said that the entire party unit in Goa will be overhauled. “The president will also be changed. That is for sure. When the party says that it will restructure, that means everyone will be dropped,” said the functionary. Sources also say that after Kiran’s visit to West Bengal to meet senior TMC leaders, Rajya Sabha Derek O’Brien had informed party functionaries in Goa that after returning from West Bengal, Kiran would convene a meeting in Goa to discuss the way forward. Though O’Brien put this message on the party’s group chat, differences between Kandolkar and the national unit appear to have cropped up and Kandolkar did not convene the meeting, nor did he discuss what transpired at his meeting in West Bengal. The party’s Margao candidate Mahesh Amonkar was the first to leave the party, submitting his resignation a day after the election results were announced on March 10. Since then, several other functionaries quit TMC, including party general secretary Vijai Pai. Kavita, the Colvale ZP member, quit TMC along with her supporters, which include local sarpanchas and panch members.
The heady days of winter 2021 must seem to be from an age ago for the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The party’s morale in the North East was high, with a number of high-profile joinings, including that of virtually the entire Meghalaya Congress unit, and a respectable performance in the Tripura urban local body polls. With a vote share of around 20 per cent in the Agartala Municipal Corporation election, the party had left the CPI(M) behind while the Congress was nearly wiped out.The Tripura bypoll results have, however, dealt a setback to the TMC that also faced a bruising defeat in the Goa Assembly polls in February. TMC’s campaign managers concede that the party refused to see the writing on the wall in Tripura. The party failed to win any of the four seats that were at stake and its vote shares were also low. In Agartala, it received 2.1 per cent of the votes while the vote shares were 2.98 per cent in Jubarajnagar, 3.4 per cent in Surma, and 2.96 per cent in Town Bardowali.“By rejoining the Congress, Sudip Roy Barman changed the equation. He is a formidable face in Agartala, which sent him to the Assembly five times between 1998 and 2018. So, we could not repeat our performance here despite putting up a popular face,” said a TMC leader who was involved with the party’s campaign.Historical trends show that vote shares of parties swing wildly in Tripura, the country’s third-smallest state. The Congress’s vote share crashed from 36.5 per cent in the 2013 Assembly polls to 1.79 per cent in 2018, shifting to the BJP that saw its share rise from 1.5 per cent to 43.59 per cent.In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress saw its share rise to 25.34 per cent and it shrank to 2.07 per cent in the urban local body polls. “That is when the party occupied some space. But it could not hold on to that as a local popular face infused fresh life into the Congress,” said the TMC leader.And due to the absence of a local face with a mass appeal in its state unit, the TMC was no match for the Congress that managed to get its support base revived in the urban areas, where the party performed well even during the heyday of the Left Front that governed Tripura from 1998 to 2018.“The party needs experienced people in its ranks, along with fresh blood,” said a senior TMC leader. The Tripura unit head, Subal Bhowmik, formerly with the BJP, has attributed the recent losses to “organisational weaknesses”.“The party still does not have a permanent office building in the state. There is no booth-level presence. The anti-BJP electorate also voted strategically. Why will they vote for a party that does not even have an office?” said the senior functionary on the condition of anonymity.On Tuesday, TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee said the party would not abandon its plans to grow in the state and would continue to fight.Meanwhile, TMC leaders in the state also claimed that the CPI(M) helped the Congress “as part of a tacit deal”. A party functionary said, “Even in 2018, CPI(M) candidate polled over 17,000 votes in the Agartala constituency. This time, it came down to a little over 6,000. In the Town Bardowali seat, which is also in the capital city, the Left Front candidate had received over 13,000 votes in 2018, while he got barely 3,000 votes.”Going ahead, the party, which maintains that Barman’s win does not signal a revival of the Congress, plans to focus on building a “grassroots narrative”. Said a local leader, “The launch of the party’s office space in Agartala will be a good beginning.”Meanwhile, the TMC will launch its Meghalaya office today in the presence of Abhishek Banerjee.
After the Tripura bypolls results were announced Sunday, while the CPI(M) accused the ruling BJP of misusing its powers, the TMC reviewed what held it back.The state unit of the CPI(M), reacting to the Tripura bypoll results, said the results were engineered with coercion, money and muscle power and misuse of administration.“Judging from the condition going on since the last 51 months in Tripura, the by-election results in four assembly segments aren’t as per expectation. The BJP misused administration and used money, muscle power etc. Voters couldn’t cast a mandate in many areas due to threats, intimidation, and violence perpetrated by the BJP. Genuine voters were obstructed from casting their votes,” said a statement issued by CPI(M) office secretary Haripada Das.The statement also said the party believes “democratic people” would take “lessons” from incidents that transpired in the bypolls and build extensive unity for the future.Meanwhile, TMC Tripura unit president Subal Bhowmik said they have accepted the mandate but said his party’s poor performance in bypolls does not reflect the general mindset of the electorate.Speaking to reporters, he claimed voters wanted to “consolidate” opposition votes to make sure the BJP didn’t get an advantage due to a fractured opposition mandate. Bhowmik claimed electors made the “right decision” by taking this call but added that such a move happened due to by-polls, where the government wouldn’t be changed anyway.“The results match voter character of Tripura. In 2018, Congress went down to 1.5 per cent, rose to 27 per cent in 2019 and reduced again to less than 1 per cent in civic polls. We believe this poll dynamics will change again next year and it will go in favour of TMC,” said Bhowmik.However, the Trinamool Congress leader admitted his party had “organisational weaknesses” and had some “issues of continuity” in an oblique reference to the TMC’s focus on Goa after the party’s moderate results in civic body polls last year.“We had some organisational weaknesses, we had some problems of continuity. We could not build a vote bank though we have the support of the people. When they saw massive violence, they thought they would give a mandate in favour of defeating the BJP. but it wouldn’t stay the same in 2023. Future of the TMC is bright,” claimed Bhowmik.The ruling BJP won three assembly seats and the Congress bagged one in the high-stakes bypolls in Tripura. Chief Minister Manik Saha won the bypoll to the crucial Town Bardowali seat against Ashish Kumar Saha of the Congress. Congress leader Sudip Roy Barman defeated his nearest rival Ashok Sinha of the BJP in Agartala.
The de facto number two in the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Abhishek Banerjee is viewed as the heir apparent of his aunt and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Though his rise has caused consternation among certain senior leaders of the party, the Diamond Harbour MP is trying to move beyond his recent troubles and consolidate his position and image both within the party and in the public.Earlier this year, as Covid-19 cases increased, Abhishek’s constituency bucked the trend as the MP’s proactive measures — control rooms in every block, panchayat and municipal ward in South 24 Parganas, and the “Doctors on Wheels” service in five blocks — helped bring down the positivity rate from 20 per cent to one per cent in two weeks. Labelled the Diamond Harbour model of Covid management, the episode enhanced his image in the eyes of people. On the occasion of the Bengali New Year in April, the MP launched Diamond Harbour FC, a football club named after his constituency. At the event, reaching out to everyone across party lines, he said, “This is football. So even if you are from the TMC, the BJP, the Congress or the CPI(M), you are welcome here. If you are in politics, even if you are not, you are welcome here. This is football, which has no place for religion or caste.”On Saturday, as he completed eight years as a parliamentarian, Abhishek launched an “Ek Daake Abhishek” helpline for the people of his constituency. The helpline is modelled on his aunt’s “Didi ke Bolo” initiative. The MP also released a report card titled “Nishobdo Biplab (Silent Revolution)” in which he enlisted the work done in the area during his time in Parliament.But it has not been all smooth sailing for Abhishek. While he and his wife are under investigation in connection with a case of money laundering arising out of a coal scam, some in the TMC old guard have been left unenthused by his rise. This year itself, the MP took several positions that seemed to go against the official party narrative. Ahead of the civic polls, Abhishek suggested that relatives of leaders with a tainted background should not get tickets, but Mamata Banerjee ignored this demand. His demand for a ban on political and religious gatherings during a rise in Covid cases was also unheeded as the state government went ahead with the Gangasagar Mela.The rift between Abhishek and the old guard of the party widened over the candidates’ list for 108 civic bodies. The tussle came to the fore after two candidate lists were released for the polls. While one was published by the party’s senior leaders Partha Chatterjee, Firhad Hakim, Aroop Biswas, and Subrata Bakshi, another popped up on the party’s official website and was said to have been the one formulated by Prashant Kishor’s company I-PAC. The involvement of I-PAC in the TMC after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which saw the BJP make huge gains in Bengal, largely rested on Abhishek’s support.Earlier this year, the Diamond Harbour MP’s actions and statements drew criticism from senior TMC leader and MP Kalyan Banerjee who called Abhishek’s statements a “challenge to the state government” and declared that he did not consider the 34-year-old his leader. Questioning the work Abhishek did in Diamond Harbour during the Covid surge, he said, “What model? There is only one model, which Mamata Banerjee has come up with … Abhishek is basically lending an advantage to the BJP. If Abhishek Banerjee can win Tripura and Goa, then I will accept him as a leader.”As the internal discord increasingly spilled out into the open, Mamata Banerjee, in an effort to keep the old guard happy, dissolved all national-level portfolios in the party, including Abhishek’s portfolio of national general secretary that he had been elevated to following the Assembly election victory in 2021. The TMC chief then reshuffled party positions, appointing senior leaders such as Yashwant Sinha and Amit Mitra to the national working committee and making Sukhendu Sekhar Roy the national spokesperson. At the same time, she reinstated Abhishek as the TMC’s national general secretary and expressed her faith in him as the leader of the party’s next generation.Abhishek has also had to contend with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and ED scanner on him and his wife Rujira in a coal scam case. “The CBI and ED are constantly targeting me but I have not lowered my head before them,” the MP said last month. “I am not afraid of any agency or investigation. The ED tried to harass me by calling me to Delhi twice. I have never run away from any agency. I told them if they want to interrogate me, they should come to Bengal. I am a son of this soil. I am ready to answer all questions.”Some senior leaders said Abhishek was trying to follow in his aunt’s footsteps and develop an image of him being larger than the party itself in order to push his aunt to give him more responsibilities.Speaking about Abhishek, a senior TMC leader said, “He is already number two in the party. But, he has to prove himself as a good administrator. That is why he is developing the Diamond Harbour constituency as a model constituency.”The MP still enjoys the support of some of the TMC old guard. “Abhishek Banerjee is probably the most popular youth icon in India,” claimed veteran party leader and MLA Madan Mitra.Taking a dig at the TMC MP over the report card he unveiled on Saturday, BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “Successors in dynasties always try to differentiate themselves from others. I do not know what he did in his ‘silent revolution’ but I know all teacher vacancies in West Bengal were silently sold.”
“What is UPA? There is no UPA”: Mamata Banerjee, December 1, 2021.The three-time chief minister’s assertion was projected as a sign of her determination to open a new chapter in Opposition politics, with her party, the Trinamool Congress, as the fulcrum, replacing a listless Congress.On Wednesday, ahead of the joint meeting convened by her on the Presidential poll, as Banerjee warmly received Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh and Randeep Surjewala at the entrance of the meeting venue, the moment framed the distance travelled by the TMC in the last seven months.Humbled by a poor show in the Goa assembly polls, desertion of inductees like Haryana leader Ashok Tanwar within days of joining, and trouble in its home turf West Bengal on many fronts, ranging from political violence and an alleged scam in teacher recruitment, the TMC appears to have reworked its strategy.The joint meeting, which was attended by 17 Opposition parties despite noises made by the Congress, Left parties and the DMK over Banerjee’s “unilateral initiative”, was replete with signs that the TMC has realised its limitations, and the need to adopt a more accommodating approach — with a little nudge from Sharad Pawar.In fact, conscious attempts were made to avoid giving an impression that it was a ‘Mamata show’. The NCP supremo, who played a major role in getting the TMC to dial down its aggression, which was threatening to erase even the fuzzy outlines of unity in the Opposition camp, presided over the meeting.Apart from the Congress, Pawar, who is the force binding together the unlikely Sena-NCP-Congress coalition in Maharashtra, also managed to bring the Left parties, which continues to have bitter equations with the TMC, on board for her proposal to “sit together” and pick “the true custodian of our Constitution”.In her speech at the meeting, Banerjee even attacked the BJP government over the ED grilling of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, likening it with the agency’s action against her own nephew and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee. That’s a far cry from last winter, when she would flare up even at the slightest mention of the Grand Old Party.Also, instead of sulking over TMC’s attempt to take the pole position, by stepping back a little, the Congress has also offered Banerjee the required space to leverage her strengths by reaching out to parties like the TRS, YSRCP, BJD, BSP and SP, which would be more receptive to ideas floated by her than the Sonia Gandhi-led party.The Shiv Sena, which deputed two leaders to Wednesday’s meeting, also appears to be enthused with the new playbook scripted by Banerjee and Pawar. The party had in December criticised the TMC, saying no Opposition front is possible without the Congress.The meeting had its share of hitches though. While political activist Sudheendra Kulkarni read out a one-line resolution adopted at the meeting after it ended, the TMC is learnt to have prepared a three-page draft. But it was whittled down after many participants pointed out that the draft should have been circulated well in advance.With the next meeting of the Opposition camp scheduled for next week, all eyes are on Pawar, who will take the lead in hosting it after having turned down the unanimous request by leaders to be the face against the NDA’s candidate.As things stand, the NDA already has over 48 per cent of the vote share in the electoral college for choosing the new President, which seems to be the primary reason behind the reluctance of the Maratha strongman, who tweeted last night saying, “I am happy to continue my service for the well-being of the common man”.Also, among NC’s Farooq Abdullah and former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the two alternative names floated at the meeting, the latter appears to have more acceptance, even among those who stayed away for tactical reasons.Leader of an Opposition party, which skipped the meeting despite being invited, said his party was likely to push for the candidature of Gopal Krishna Gandhi.“He may have been critical of the government, but Gopal Krishna Gandhi is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. The PM holds the Mahatma in high regard. There is no better time to field him than the 75th year of India’s Independence,” the leader said.
Back in 2017, as 17 Opposition parties huddled at a luncheon hosted by Sonia Gandhi to pick a Presidential nominee on a hot summer day, AAP was among the notable omissions from the list of invitees.The Congress kept the AAP away from the joint Opposition table at a time the Arvind Kejriwal-led party was reeling under a string of electoral reverses and police cases against its MLAs in Delhi.Cut to June 15, 2022: the AAP is the only Opposition party, apart from the Congress, that’s governing two states, with a collective strength of 156 MLAs and 10 Rajya Sabha MPs.Yet, the party was missing from Wednesday’s joint strategy meeting convened by West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee to pick a consensus Opposition candidate for the upcoming Presidential polls.This time, however, staying away was a conscious choice made by the AAP, which is making an aggressive push to grow its footprint in states such as Gujarat and Haryana, among others.There are three major reasons behind AAP’s no-show”1. Presence of the CongressThe AAP, which has over the last one decade relegated the Congress to the margins of Delhi politics and Punjab, is not comfortable sharing a common platform with the Sonia Gandhi-led party. AAP traces its genesis to the 2011 India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, which rocked the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Congress. The Congress could never recover from the blow dealt by the IAC, a section of which floated the AAP. In 2014, Kejriwal resigned as CM, bringing down the short-lived AAP government formed with the outside support of the Congress, which, along with the BJP, blocked the introduction of a Jan Lokpal Bill in the Delhi Assembly citing constitutional infirmities. The ties between the two parties soured further after their alliance talks ahead of the 2019 general elections broke down, triggering a bitter public spat between Kejriwal and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.2. Conscious of its imageThe AAP feels its anti-corruption, modern image, with a major focus on addressing governance deficit, does not gel well with the conventional approach of other parties, which “are among those against which the IAC rallied the masses” in the name of Jan Lokpal Bill. The party did show up in such joint forums in the past, though. In 2018, Kejriwal was among the Opposition leaders who attended the swearing-in ceremony of H D Kumaraswamy in Karnataka. He was also present at another joint Opposition rally organised by the TMC in Kolkata in 2019. In February 2019, the AAP also hosted a ‘Save Democracy’ rally in Jantar Mantar, where Kejriwal even shared dais with Congress’s Anand Sharma, among others. But the drubbing in the 2019 general elections has forced a rethink, leading to a change in strategy. While Kejriwal continues to meet Banerjee, and leaders like TRS’s K Chandrashekar Rao and DMK’s M K Stalin, AAP leaders say that in the lead-up to the 2024 polls, the party will largely desist from participating in joint forums like it did in the past.3. A tussle for spaceThe fact that Wednesday’s joint strategy meeting was convened by the TMC was also a factor behind the AAP’s absence. The ties between the two parties have taken a hit in the past one year, with the TMC making a surprise foray into Goa ahead of the Assembly polls in the coastal state, where the AAP had been trying to make inroads since 2015. The relations between Kejriwal and Banerjee also came under strain with both their parties vying to fill the Opposition space vacated by a politically feeble Congress. Assam is another frontier where the two parties are set to cross swords in the coming weeks and months. The AAP’s Bengal unit has also been regularly attacking the TMC government.