Kolkata/Chandigarh | In a double whammy for the opposition INDIA bloc, chief ministers of West Bengal and Punjab on Wednesday said there will be no alliance with the Congress for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and that their parties TMC and AAP will go it alone in the respective states.
The surprise announcement by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that caught the Congress off guard came on the back of the growing tussle between the Trinamool Congress(TMC) and the grand old party over sharing of seats to be contested in the key eastern state. It also came just a day ahead of the scheduled entry of the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra into West Bengal.
"I had given them (Congress) a proposal (on seat sharing) but they refused it at the outset. Our party has now decided to go it alone in Bengal," Banerjee told reporters at Dumurjala helipad in Howrah district.
“Now, we have decided that there will be no relations with the Congress in Bengal," the chief minister said in remarks that has dented opposition unity efforts. A total of 28 parties have come together to form the INDIA grouping to take on the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
According to sources, the TMC had offered only two seats to the Congress based on its 2019 Lok Sabha polls performance. This was not acceptable to the Congress causing strains between the two parties in West Bengal which accounts for 42 parliamentary seats.
A rattled Congress appeared to underplay the rift with the TMC on the seat-sharing issue in West Bengal, asserting that no one can imagine the existence of the INDIA bloc without Mamata Banerjee and that her party is an "important pillar" of the opposition alliance.
"We cannot imagine the INDIA bloc without Mamata ji. The INDIA bloc will fight the Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal and all (partners) will participate," Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh told a press conference at North Salmara in Assam as part of Rahul Gandhi's ongoing yatra
"Banerjee said that defeating BJP is the priority and prime responsibility of all of us. With this sentiment, our 'Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra' will enter West Bengal tomorrow," Ramesh said when asked about the TMC supremo's statement on seat-sharing talks.
The BJP also waded into the TMC-Congress tussle, claiming that Banerjee's decision is a sign of her desperation and it will be a “death knell” for the INDIA bloc.
In Chandigarh, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said his party will not enter into an alliance with the Congress in the state, reiterating that the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) will win all 13 seats at stake.
Denying reports that the TMC and Congress are in talks for seat-sharing, Banerjee asserted that she has not spoken to anyone in the grand old party on the issue.
"Let the Congress fight 300 seats on its own (in the country). The regional parties are together and can contest the rest. However, we will not tolerate any interference by them (Congress) in Bengal," she said.
The TMC supremo also stressed that her party would prepare its strategies at the national-level after the elections are over.
"At the national level, we, as part of the INDIA grouping, will decide our strategy after the elections. We will do whatever it takes to defeat BJP," she added.
Dwelling on the 'Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra', Banerjee expressed her displeasure over the Congress not informing her about the visit of Rahul Gandhi to West Bengal.
"As a gesture of courtesy, did they (Congress) let me know that they are coming to Bengal for the Yatra? I am not aware of it," she said.
West Bengal's Congress state president Adhir Chowdhury, a vocal TMC critic, has maintained that it wouldn't "beg" for seats from Bengal’s ruling party.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal, TMC bagged 22 seats and the Congress won two while the BJP got 18 seats.
The TMC had recently skipped the recent INDIA bloc virtual meeting and highlighted the necessity for the Congress to recognise its limitations in Bengal, and allow the regional party to spearhead the state's political battle.
Mann's reiteration of AAP's stance in Punjab comes at a time when the party and the Congress are in the midst of seat sharing talks in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Goa and Gujarat.
However, the AAP has entered into an alliance with the Congress for the Chandigarh mayoral poll.
Replying to a question by reporters after a Cabinet meeting on his party's alliance with the Congress, Mann said he has said many times that "Punjab will become a hero in the country and the AAP will win 13-0 in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls". Punjab accounts for 13 Lok Sabha seats.
Asked if it was clear that the AAP will not have an electoral alliance with the Congress, Mann said, "We are not going with them (Congress)."
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Congress won eight seats, Shiromani Akali Dal(SAD) and its erstwhile ally BJP two each and the AAP one.
Mann and several AAP leaders have made known their opposition to any truck with the Congress for the Lok Sabha polls.
IT department head Amit Malviya, BJP co-incharge for West Bengal, said Banerjee’s decision to fight alone in West Bengal is a sign of desperation.
"Unable to hold her political ground, she wants to fight all seats in the hope that she can still be relevant after the polls,” he said in a post on X.
In New Delhi, TMC sources claimed the Congress delayed the seat-sharing talks and made unreasonable demands without acknowledging the ground reality.
The TMC is open to "courtesy back-channel" talks but there is hardly any hope left for reaching a pact, they said.
Maintaining that the TMC had offered two Lok Sabha seats to the Congress, a senior party leader said it is open to discussing a third seat, provided it agrees to give the TMC some seats in Meghalaya and Assam.
The NCP (Sharad Pawar faction) said Banerjee's announcement could be part of a "strategy" and maintained that the INDIA bloc stands united against the BJP.
Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray was of the view that Banerjee was "fighting like a tigress", and her fight was important for her state.
New Delhi | The BJP on Wednesday said West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee’s decision to “go solo” in the Lok Sabha polls is a sign of her desperation and “death knell” for the ‘INDIA’ bloc of the opposition parties.
The BJP also took potshots at the Congress and other INDIA bloc constituents on the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) decision to go alone in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in Punjab, saying “INDI Alliance” is getting demolished day by day and the time has come for its “funeral”.
In a major setback to the opposition INDIA bloc, Banerjee earlier in the day announced that her party has decided to go alone in West Bengal in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann also said his party will not enter into an alliance with the Congress in the state for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, asserting that the AAP will win all 13 seats.
Reacting to the development, BJP co-incharge for West Bengal and IT department head Amit Malviya said in a post on X, “Mamata Banerjee’s decision to fight alone in West Bengal is a sign of desperation. Unable to hold her political ground, she wants to fight all seats, in the hope that she can still be relevant, after the polls.”
"Much against her desire to emerge as the face of the Opposition alliance, no one ever proposed her name. Her several trips to Delhi, to build a national profile, didn’t work. She just couldn’t hide the blood of post poll violence and rid herself of the nauseating stink of appeasement politics," Malviya said.
“An embarrassed Mamata, to save face, pitched for Mallikarjun Kharge, ruling herself out in the process. She realised, despite her bluster, she had no currency in the Opposition camp and had been building ground to snap out for long. But the fact that her announcement to go solo comes just before Rahul Gandhi’s circus arrives in Bengal is a death knell for the I.N.D.I. Alliance,” he added.
BJP national spokesperson Nalin Kohli said it is a “paper alliance” and Banerjee’s comments have made it clear that it has no clarity in its agenda and no leadership.
Taking a jibe at the TMC and INDIA bloc of opposition parties, another BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla said, “Before political marriage could fructify Talaq is done, Mamata didi declares no alliance in Bengal.”
“On the one hand Ram Mandir (was) built and 'pran pratishtha' was also done while on the other INDI structure is being demolished on a daily basis...And, time has almost come for its 'antim sanskar' (funeral),” Poonawalla said.
“Rahul Gandhi should forget his ‘nyay yatra’. He should start INDI jodo yatra,” he added.
Union Minister Pralhad Joshi said that it was “known to everyone” from day one that efforts to forge a grand alliance of the opposition parties against the BJP was nothing but just a “photo shoot”.
“We were telling this from day one that it’s just a photo shoot, nothing is going to happen. It was known since day one that this alliance is not going to happen,” Joshi told reporters.
“More parties are going to say things like this. Wait a little more (to see that)," he added.
On Mamata being upset over Congress leader Rahul Gandhi not sharing prior information that his 'Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra' will pass through West Bengal as well, Joshi said “they need some or other excuses” to go alone in the elections.
“It has been there since the beginning. They had to play a drama for seven-eight months. They did it,” the minister added.
Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) president Tejasvi Surya described the INDIA bloc as an "unnatural alliance between a snake and a mongoose”, noting that its parties have been fighting one another in different states.
The Left and the Congress fight in Kerala and the AAP and the Congress fight in Punjab and Delhi, he told reporters, adding that such an "unnatural" alliance is bound to meet a "natural" death.
This alliance was a "non-starter" from the first day, the head of the BJP's youth wing said.
In a surprise move, Banerjee earlier in the day announced that the TMC would go alone in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal, citing disagreement with the Congress over seat-sharing issue.
“I had given them (Congress) a proposal (on seat-sharing), but they refused it at the outset. Our party has now decided to go alone in Bengal,” the TMC supremo said.
The Congress, meanwhile, said no one can imagine the existence of the opposition INDIA bloc without Banerjee.
Addressing a press conference at North Salmara in Assam as part of the party's 'Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra', Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said that Banerjee's Trinamool Congress is an "important pillar" of the opposition alliance.
"No one can imagine the INDIA alliance without Mamata ji. The INDIA bloc will fight the Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal and all (partners) will participate," Ramesh said.
"Banerjee said that defeating the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls is the prime responsibility of all of us," he added.
According to sources, the TMC's offer of two seats to the grand old party based on its 2019 Lok Sabha elections performance, triggered tension among them, as the arrangement was deemed insufficient.