AAP and tmc compete for space in East, North East States
Mamata focuses on Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya for expansion
By Ashis Biswas
In some Indian states, the two major regional parties the Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party, sworn as they are to battle against the ruling BJP — find themselves unavoidably drawn into a bitter struggle to upstage each other in their quest to achieve organizational growth.
Both Ms Mamata Banerjee (TMC) and Mr Arvind Kejriwal (AAP) spare no opportunity to attack the BJP publicly on issues ranging from GOI’s post Ukraine war policies to the occasional resurgence of the Covid 19 pandemic. Despite their public show of cordiality, strains have appeared at the lower levels of their respective party organisations.
TMC insiders in Kolkata admit that they cannot help treating the AAP at the lower level as a potential adversary whose activities/programmes pose a direct political challenge in Tripura, Assam and other NE states. Recent steps taken by the AAP to set up a full time functional office in Central Kolkata and launch fledgling district units among Bengal‘s sizable non-Bengali population exceeding 10 million, have gone down none too well with senior TMC leaders. Both Mr Kejriwal and Ms Banerjee lost no time in announcing their plans to join the centre- stage of national politics after their major victories in the 2021 Bengal Assembly elections and the more recent Punjab assembly polls.
The TMC enjoyed a head start over the AAP in that it launched its ‘Delhi chalo’ initiative much before the AAP did. Ruling in Bengal from 2011 onwards, the TMC had tried to set up units in Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, in recent years. Mostly poaching dissident lawmakers from the Congress and smaller local parties and giving them party tickets and high posts, it enjoyed a tentative presence of sorts for some time in a few states. Almost invariably local Congress and other parties complained that the TMC had used its money power to establish its presence. It never worked among the local people anywhere, nor carried out any agitations/other noticeable party building work at any level.
Over time, such allegations were validated. Most so-called ‘TMC ‘MLAs etc either rejoined their earlier parties, in the time- honoured tradition of politics in the NE states. In states like UP and elsewhere, the new ‘units’ simply withered away and fell off the radar through lack of activity.
It has been no different in Goa or Tripura in 2021 and 2022. In both states, the TMC had undertaken expensive, intense political campaigns to contest the Assembly polls (Goa) and the civic polls (Tripura). S0me TMC insiders suggest over Rs 60 crore were spent on the recent Tripura expedition alone. Despite much fanfare and publicity, and efforts put up by top TMC leaders like General Secretary and MP Abhishek Banerjee and Chief Minister Ms Banerjee herself, the TMC remained winless.
Nothing daunted, the TMC has just resumed its political forays into Tripura and Assam, enlisting the support of influential ex Congress leaders like Ms. Sushmita Dev and Mr Ripun Bora, along with some of their followers. There has as yet been no similar initiative taken in Goa. The TMC’s move follows an announcement from AAP leaders of their plans to venture into Bengal in the East and the NE states. As with the TMC contesting the Tripura civic polls, winning zero out of 320 seats, the AAP contested the Guwahati civic elections a few days back. Well, Mr Kejriwal’s followers performed much better in Guwahati than Ms Banerjee’s army of leaders and supporters had done in Tripura! Without any of the sound and fury of an expensive political campaign that hardly got any media coverage, the AAP won one out of 40 wards it had contested in the 60-strong chamber. More, it came second in over 20 wards, supplanting the Congress which did not win a single ward. The ruling BJP made a sweep winning 58 out of 60.
The TMC’s response was decisive. Mr Banerjee as reported has just visited Assam, where he was joined by established local leaders like Ms Dev and Mr Bora. He addressed a press conference in Hindi, declaring his intent to fight and defeat the BJP all the way to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and beyond. At Guwahati some people were shown joining the TMC, recalling a similar ceremony that had been seen some years ago. He also offered the ritual puja at the famous Kamakhya temple.
‘Clearly, the TMC is not about to leave Assam or the Northeast to the AAP without a tough fight,’ writes the political correspondent of a Guwahati-based paper.
There were two incidents that took some of the shine off what could have been a successful TMC show. First, a couple of days before Mr Banerjee set foot in Assam, over one thousand people joined the AAP at a special ceremony in the state. Unlike Assam-based TMC leaders or their advisers based in Kolkata, AAP leaders had done their homework. Unlike the TMC programmes again, there had been no ‘large scale media noise’ as some people described it, about the work they have been doing.
Reports in Assam-based media carried details of AAP units already set up. There were accounts mentioning the names of local leaders at various levels, who were in the process of increasing their contact and reach among various sections and social groups among the people. The AAP’s achievements in Delhi and the improvement of the lives of common people in terms facilities for education, better health and power services, despite consistent opposition from the BJP, were spelt out in detail.
‘In some respects, the contrast between the performance and track records of Mr Kejriwal and Mr Himanta Biswa Sarma as chief Ministers from different parties functioning within a federal political structure could not be avoided — there can be no question that some people in Assam have been impressed by the AAP’s work in Delhi so far,’ says a Guwahati-based newsperson.
The second irritant during Mr Banerjee’s visit occurred over the alleged highhanded ways of some of his security personnel belonging to the ranks of West Bengal police. Assam-based media accounts reported that they had behaved rudely with Guwahati newspersons as they tried to talk to the visiting All India General Secretary of the All India Trinamool Congerss, Mr Abhishek Banerjee MP. In other words local newspersons were doing no more than their duty.
Unfortunately not only were they shooed away rudely, the security personnel even told them that after three years, they would find it more difficult to approach the leader they had come to interview !
Deeply upset, Guwahati media persons complained to Mr Banerjee himself. The Guwahati Press Club promptly condemned the behaviour of the concerned security personnel who had accompanied Mr Banerjee from West Bengal. Sensing the local mood, Mr Banerjee apologised. ‘In the sensitive Northeast region where for historical reasons, ethnic relationships and the respect for diverse cultures/values count for much more than elsewhere in India, TMC leaders must be more careful in their movements and dealings with people,’ said a Kolkata-based analyst. (IPA Service)