Fissures appear to have emerged in the INDIA alliance as its two key allies, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress, on Thursday clashed over seat sharing for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal.
State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “The grand old party won’t beg for seats from the TMC,” drawing a response from the Mamata Banerjee-led party, which asserted that “badmouthing alliance partners and seat sharing can’t go hand in hand”.
Mr Chowdhury, a staunch critic of the TMC, launched a no-holds-barred attack, accusing Bengal’s ruling party of being busy “serving Prime Minister Narendra Modi” rather than strengthening the opposition alliance.
His remarks prompted a sharp reaction from the TMC, which criticised Mr Chowdhury for making “callous remarks” and cautioned the Congress high command to rein in their state president.
Seat sharing between the two parties has been a bone of contention, with media reports suggesting that the TMC is keen to allocate only two seats, a proposition unacceptable to the Congress Bengal unit.
In the 2019 elections, the TMC won 22 seats, the Congress won two (Behrampore and Malda South), and the BJP secured 18.
Mr Chowdhury claimed that the Congress was “strong enough to win more seats” in West Bengal and challenged the TMC supremo to contest against him from his home turf Berhampore in the Lok Sabha elections this year.
The war of words, brewing for the past few days, took an ugly turn on Thursday after Mr Chowdhury slammed the TMC for not being serious about allying with the Congress in the state.
“The TMC is not serious about strengthening or forging an alliance in Bengal. The TMC is busy pleasing and serving Prime Minister Narendra Modi to protect themselves from the clutches of the CBI and the ED,” he told reporters in his constituency.
Referring to media reports that the TMC was willing to part with the two seats won by the Congress in 2019, Mr Chowdhury expressed his displeasure, saying, “Congress is not going to beg before TMC for seats.” He added, “We don’t need their alms. Who are they to decide how many seats the party will contest? If needed, we will fight on our own; let the party high command take a call on it,” highlighting his role in the ongoing CPI(M)-Congress alliance in West Bengal.
Mr Chowdhury also said, “We can win more seats in West Bengal with our strength. We will win by bigger margins…She (Mamata) has proposed that Priyanka Gandhi should be fielded against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi. I have a suggestion for her to contest against me from Berhampore.” Congress MP from Malda South Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury had last month claimed that he had learnt from the media that TMC would leave his seat and Berhampore for the party as part of the seat-sharing deal.
According to TMC sources, the ruling party in Bengal is inclined to allocate four out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats to Congress. Currently, the Congress holds two seats in West Bengal, both in minority-dominated districts of Malda and Murshidabad.
The TMC leadership strongly criticised Mr Chowdhury and urged the Congress high command to rein him in if they were serious about the alliance.
Senior TMC MP Sougata Roy said, “Badmouthing TMC and our party supremo Mamata Banerjee and alliance can’t go hand in hand. The regular insults hurled at us by Mr Chowdhury and some leaders of the Bengal Congress have to stop if the party wants an alliance. The Congress high command must rein in Adhir Chowdhury if they want an alliance in Bengal.” Mr Roy wondered what prompted Mr Chowdhury to make such remarks, saying, “Who told him that we have offered two seats? Our leader Mamata Banerjee has said that in Bengal, TMC will lead the fight, but across the country, it will be the INDIA alliance that will fight against the BJP.” During the December 19 INDIA opposition bloc meeting, the TMC set a December 31 deadline for finalising the seat-sharing agreement, a demand that remains unmet.
The political landscape shifted notably when Mamata Banerjee, just ahead of the opposition bloc meeting, expressed confidence in a three-way alliance involving the TMC, Congress, and the Left.
However, within a few days, Ms Banerjee accused the CPI(M) and Congress of colluding with the BJP in West Bengal, asserting that the TMC would lead the battle against the saffron camp in Bengal during the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, while the INDIA bloc would spearhead the fight nationwide.
Both parties have previously fought elections in alliance, including the 2001 assembly polls, 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and 2011 assembly polls. In 2011, the Congress-TMC alliance defeated the 34-year-old Left Front regime in West Bengal.
The history of their alliance has been marked by discontent, with Congress accusing the TMC of depriving them of legitimate seats in previous elections.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)