Bengal Cong in cleft stick over whom to side with – TMC or Left
The West Bengal Congress finds itself in an awkward situation with the party leadership cosying up to Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee to “fight injustice” against opposition-ruled state governments.
A meeting of chief ministers of non-BJP-ruled states convened at the joint initiative of Congress’ interim president Sonia Gandhi and Banerjee on Wednesday (August 26) identified core issues on which the Opposition should unite to protect the country’s federal structure.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was absent in the meeting, though three days ago the ruling CPI(M) organised a statewide protest against the “anti-people” policies of the Central government, including privatization of airports.
In Bengal, both the CPI(M) and the Congress are in constant parleys to intensify their joint protest against the Mamata Banerjee government. CPI(M) state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra while paying tribute to former state party chief Somendra Nath Mitra said the befitting homage to the late leader who passed away last month would be to strengthen understanding between the two parties and implement joint agitation programmes.
Mishra’s comment came a day before Gandhi and Banerjee decided to launch a joint fight against the BJP-led Central government.
The Congress and the Left front are in the process of preparing a “common minimum programme”, based on which they would launch a joint fight against the Trinamool Congress and BJP in Bengal in the run-up to the ensuing assembly elections due in May next year.
A senior state Congress leader said in the opposition CMs’ virtual meeting, streamed live, it was apparent that Sonia Gandhi was relying on the Bengal Chief Minister in her fight against the BJP.
The Congress chief asked Banerjee to liaison with other like-minded chief ministers to bolster the opposition’s voice against the Centre.
In Wednesday’s meeting, all the CMs were unanimous that the non-BJP parties needed to unite against the BJP-led Central government which is allegedly trying to muzzle the opposition voice. The CMs were of the view that the Opposition needed to build up a strong united movement against the “anti-people” policies of the BJP.
Another Congress leader said any joint agitation with the TMC against BJP in the state would be the reversal of the party’s present stand. “We are currently working with the Left Front to fight the TMC and the BJP together. In the coming days, if a larger Opposition forum is created with both the Congress and the TMC as its part, then our position will be a little awkward,” she said.
State Congress sources said they would like to have more clarity from the Central leadership on its future electoral strategy in Bengal. “We cannot be in two boats. We have to take a clear cut stand…either we are with the TMC or against it,” the Congress leader said.
The Congress leadership also needs to take a call soon on who will be the next state party chief as the post has fallen vacant after the demise of Mitra on July 30.
In public Congress leaders have tried to put a brave face arguing national political development should not be equated with state politics. “On national issues, Sonia Gandhi has tried to bring all the non-BJP chief ministers, including Mamata Banerjee, on the same page, but that does not change our equation in the state,” said Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharjee.
The CMs’ meeting was convened to push for their demand for postponement of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to medical and dental colleges and the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for entry into the engineering colleges and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
In the video conference, the CMs, however, dwelt on many other Centre-state issues, including non-release of GST dues of the states by the Centre, privatization of public sector undertakings, the new education policy, and contentious Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) draft.
Apart from the need to move the Supreme Court to postpone the NEET and JEE examinations, the CMs also emphasized building public opinion against the BJP government, which they said, was trying to intimidate opposition leaders with Central agencies.
“Ladenge ya darenge,” (fight or be frightened) was the call of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, while his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel called for mobilization for an “India against privatization” movement.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren raised the issue of “disastrous consequence” the mineral-rich states would face if the draft EIA notification was implemented. He said the opposition needed to raise its voice strongly.