Top leaders of Bihar’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Maharashtra’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) held talks with the Trinamool Congress (TMC) leadership on Monday and agreed to form an alliance against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Bengal assembly polls due in March-April.
RJD national general secretary Shyam Rajak met Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and TMC youth wing president Abhishek Banerjee in Kolkata. TMC’s senior Lok Sabha member Saugata Roy held talks with NCP founder and former Union minister Sharad Pawar in Delhi. Pawar also spoke to Mamata Banerjee over phone.
“I met Abhishek Banerjee and we agreed on one agenda – the BJP has to be defeated in Bengal. That is our only goal,” Rajak told HT after returning to Patna on Tuesday evening. “We did not discuss the issue of seat sharing in the first round of talks. That can take place later. We will be frequenting Bengal from now on,” he added. The RJD also held a workers’ meeting in Kolkata on Sunday.
Roy said he was very happy that regional parties have offered their support to the TMC.
“Pawar and I had a round of talks on Monday. He is in touch with Mamata Banerjee. The NCP’s Darjeeling district unit will hold a meeting on Wednesday,” said Roy.
The Samajwadi Party (SP), the main opposition force in Uttar Pradesh, is also eager to form an alliance with the TMC, Roy said. “Akhilesh Yadav may visit Kolkata. This is a hopeful sign. A consensus is emerging that the BJP needs to be stopped,” said Roy.
SP vice-president Kiranmoy Nanda, who served as fisheries minister in the Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee governments when his West Bengal Socialist Party merged with Yadav’s party, is in Kolkata since last week.
HT reported on January 31 that while Mamata Banerjee is trying to consolidate anti-BJP votes, top parties from the Hindi heartland have geared up to enter the race, raising the possibility of a split in votes cast by Hindi-speaking and tribal people. The advantage of such a division, no matter how small, may help the TMC in some regions, feel political experts and TMC leaders.
The BJP says it will win more than 200 of the state’s 294 seats while election strategist Prashant Kishor, who was roped in by Banerjee in 2019 after the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, has announced on social media that he will leave his profession if the BJP bags more than 99 seats.
Against this backdrop, Bihar’s ruling party, the Janata Dal (United) and Jharkhand’s ruling party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena have also geared up to contest the Bengal polls either in alliance with local parties or, as independent forces. JD(U) and Sena leaders told HT last week that they will contest with an anti-BJP agenda.
Though all these parties contested a few seats in Bengal in the past without much success, this time around, the electoral dynamics is significant because of the deep inroads made by the BJP which Banerjee has branded as “a party of outsiders” while simultaneously making efforts to reach out to Hindi-speaking voters. Bengal has a substantial number of Bihari voters.
Last Thursday, Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren addressed his first rally at Jhargram, a district with a high tribal population. In the adjoining districts, the BJP won the Lok Sabha seats of Purulia, Bishnupur and Midnapore in 2019. Tribal people constitute a sizable chunk of voters in these seats. Soren spoke against the Centre in his speech.
Kolkata-based political science professor Udayan Bandopadhyay said the TMC will benefit from the voices of these regional parties and that will matter more than the votes these parties may get in the bi-polar election.
The BP shrugged off the NCP and the RJD as nonentities in Bengal
“The NCP and RJD are nonentities in Bengal. This is a bi-polar contest between TMC and BJP. Banerjee’s efforts are exposing the dichotomy in the TMC. On one hand, ruling party leaders call the BJP a party of Hindi-speaking outsiders while on the other they seek help from regional forces. As far as RJD is concerned, one must remember that its leader Laloo Prasad Yadav was put in jail in the fodder scam case by the then CBI joint director Upen Biswas who was later made a minister by Banerjee when she came to power in 2011,” said Samik Bhattacharya BJP’s chief spokesperson in Bengal.