With an eye on 2024 Lok Sabha elections, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee will meet with the leaders of opposition over the next three days from July 26 during her Delhi visit. But her likely meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi is what is gaining traction. Despite Trinamool Congress and Congress having frosty ties, Mamata had called up Sonia to inquire about her health, which magnifies the extent of their relationship unlike with Rahul Gandhi, who Mamata has been openly critical of. In private, Mamata was often heard saying that it was former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who had shaped her political career. When Rajiv Gandhi had noticed an angry Mamata, who had accused many Congress leaders of attacking her, he suggested that she contest against Left leader Somnath Chatterjee. Mamata’s win marked the political significance in Bengal as it ended the 34-year-long Left rule in the state.
Interestingly, Congress took to Twitter on Sunday and said “PM Modi took the adage, ‘keep your enemies closer a little too far’” as it detailed the alleged spying on Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, who is also the All India General Secretary of the TMC. To which, TMC’s chief whip in Rajya Sabha Derek O’Brien responded “Khela Hobe”, referring to Mamata’s slogan for the Bengal assembly elections.
The Pegasus issue is common between TMC and Congress as both Abhishek and Rahul figure in it. Many within Congress say it’s time the parties stick together on the issue inside Parliament.
During her three-day visit to the national capital, Mamata will reach out to all opposition parties in an attempt to lay the groundwork for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections thus hinting at a bigger role in the opposition after her massive victory in Bengal assembly polls. Even in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Mamata had tried to bring the warring opposition leaders together but failed. The Brigade Ground rally ahead of 2014 General Elections couldn’t take off as Congress leaders didn’t see Mamata as a powerful leader, hence they didn’t turn up. But this time Mamata comes with hope.
With most opposition heavyweights such as TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu down and out and Congress facing an identity crisis within, Mamata is now being looked up to as someone who could take on the might of Modi.
Mamata is also expected to meet the PM Modi July 27 for the first time since the state polls where she will bring up Covid management and vaccination issues. She is also likely to seek more funds for West Bengal amid the Covid situation.
There are signs that Mamata is working at playing the same role as Sonia did in 2004 when she kept the UPA intact. Abhishek is being pitched as the face of the TMC. He has been given important charge as the general secretary and is hobnobbing with all senior leaders. The Pegasus issue has put focus on Abhishek whose stature, may believe, has grown in a convoluted sense within the party because he’s now been projected as a victim. Should Mamata shift her base and her focus on national politics towards the end of this Lok Sabha term and Abhishek handle state affairs is left for Abhishek to decide. According to TMC insiders, they have been made to understand that Abhishek would call the shots.
It’s thus apparent that Mamata now does not want to give up any opportunity to project herself as the only alternative to Modi. And Congress’s support is critical in her plan. But Congress has its own ambition and cannot be seen as subservient to a regional party like the Trinamool Congress. Also, in many states both the parties are clashing with each other but the presence of two senior Congress leaders at Shaheed Diwas event on July 21 showed that Congress understood that TMC and Mamata couldn’t be ignored.
In this, election strategist Prashant Kishor played an important role. Kishor met with three Gandhis (Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra) and sources said Mission 2024 was one of the agendas. Kishor had reportedly asked Gandhis that if the Congress had to cede space for a bigger cause then there’s nothing wrong or humiliating for it.
Mamata will try and build bridges during her long-awaited Delhi visit. She’s would make it a point that she wouldn’t be just seen as the CM of West Bengal but a national leader. More importantly, she will try to remind the BJP that she had inflicted a defeat on them in the high-stakes battle in West Bengal. As TMC says “the game is on” it is intriguing to see who will ultimately win match?
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