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Congress’ Adhir Ranjan On INDIA Olive Branch


Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (File).

Kolkata:

The Congress’ Bengal boss, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, on Thursday weighed in on the ‘is she, isn’t she’ debate over Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s membership of the INDIA opposition bloc.

Responding to her “… will provide outside support (if the group wins the election)” comment Wednesday, he sneered, “I don’t trust her… she left the alliance. She can also go towards the BJP.”

“What she will do from outside (the alliance) or inside… I don’t know. That you have to ask her,” Mr Chowdhury told reporters, “But I don’t trust her. She left the alliance… she could even run to BJP.”

The senior Congress leader – there is little love lost between him and Ms Banerjee, a fact underlined by the latter yesterday explicitly stating “… INDIA alliance doesn’t count Bengal Congress…” – also said, “Whatever complaints she has (about the bloc) she should have raised earlier, when it was created.”

Mr Chowdhury further pointed out the apparent U-turn came after polling for nearly 70 per cent of all Lok Sabha seats, with the opposition bloc claiming big advances in its bid to oust the ruling BJP.

“They (referring to the BJP) were talking about destroying Congress and that Congress would not get 40 seats… but now (what) she is saying means Congress and INDIA are coming to power,” he said, appearing to suggest Ms Banerjee’s about-face followed a realisation the BJP will likely be defeated.

A day earlier Ms Banerjee – who had put her membership of the bloc on hold after public spats over seat-sharing deals – declared she would provide “outside support” in the event of an election win.

READ | Mamata Banerjee Redefines INDIA, Says Will Provide “Outside Support”

“We will give leadership to INDIA and help… from outside. We will form a government so our Bengal mothers and sisters… and those who work in 100-days job scheme do not face problems,” she said.

Ms Banerjee did, though, make it clear she does not see the Congress’ state unit, led by Mr Chowdhury, and the CPM, as allies. The Congress and the CPM, which is also part of the INDIA bloc, are allied in Bengal (but rivals in Kerala), but have fielded candidates against the Trinamool.

The Bengal Chief Minister has frequently attacked the Mr Chowdhury-led Congress unit, and the CPM, as having unofficially joined the BJP. “They are not with us… they are with the BJP here.”

Earlier this year, as the Congress was scrambling to confirm seat-share deals with INDIA allies ahead of voting for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, Ms Banerjee – seen as one of the group’s more cantankerous members – refused to play ball, insisting she would not give up more seats to that party than necessary.

READ | “No Tie-Up With Congress”: Mamata’s Bengal Twist Stuns INDIA Bloc

She pointed to the Congress’ abysmal record in the 2019 election – in which it won just two of 42 seats – and insisted her party had the best chance to defeat the BJP in the state.

Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats, of which the Trinamool won 22 last time and the BJP got 18, and Ms Banerjee reasoned the Congress simply did not have the clout to stop the saffron party in the state.

After a tension-filled few weeks in January and February, Ms Banerjee walked away from the bloc.

READ | “Even With Binoculars…”: Trinamool Sources On Congress’ 5-Seat Demand

Sources then told NDTV they could not find a third seat for the Congress “even with binoculars”.

This was after Ms Banerjee and the Congress’ Delhi unit failed to advance seat-share talks, and she hit out at what she said was a personal snub from Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra’.

The Congress then said the opposition “cannot imagine INDIA without Mamataji“.

READ | “Cannot Imagine INDIA Without Mamataji“: Congress On “No Tie-Up” Jab

Amidst all this back-and-forth, Mr Chowdhury continued to attack the Trinamool, declaring Ms Banerjee – a former member of the Congress – owed her state success to the party’s “mercy”. In fact, Mr Chowdhury was fiercely opposed to the idea of an alliance with Ms Banerjee and the Trinamool.

READ | Behind INDIA Jolt, Adhir Ranjan’s Obstinacy, Trinamool’s Regional Card

The battle for Bengal is one of several headline points, with the BJP keen on continuing to make inroads into the state after its success in the 2019 general election and the 2021 state poll. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and Ms Banerjee have all gone head-to-head on the campaign trail, with frequent sharp attacks on contentious topics like the citizenship law.

The state will continue to vote in each of the three remaining phases. Results are due on June 4.

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