In TMC's Festival Shopping List, 'Big' BJP Leaders, 'Caste-Aways' & Classic Cong
Unlike us regular folk, the TMC has a variety of options to choose from.
It’s the festival season across India, and true to their Bengali roots, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) seems to be starting off celebrations, with some extensive “pujo shopping”. On the shopping list are leaders from across India, across parties and yes, across ideologies too. Adding some variety to the mundane list of politicians are members of civil society, actors, sportspersons and some who are best described as “famous for being famous”. While some of these items have already been “acquired”, others may be added to the kitty as the festival season rolls out and party leaders get offered a choice between Goa, Tripura, Assam, or Meghalaya for their festival vacations.
But, while the aam janta is now sort of immune to political defections or surprising political inductions, one question has crossed everyone’s minds – what does it take to be inducted into the TMC? Well, to answer that, we thought it’d be best to offer a glimpse into the party’s festival shopping list.
1. “Big Leaders” From The BJP
The TMC’s induction policy seems to be different in Bengal, even if slightly, from their inductions in other states like Goa, Tripura etc. where it is looking to expand. In its home state, where organizational and perceptional factors are in favour of the TMC, the party has two clear slots in which to put newly inducted leaders.
1) Leaders who will offer perceptional growth.
2) Leaders who will offer organizational growth.
The TMC’s two big acquisitions from the BJP post the elections, Babul Supriyo and Mukul Roy, are examples of each.
While Delhi media went beserk talking about Supriyo as a “big induction”, journalists and political observers in Bengal pointed out why Delhi was making Supriyo out to be a bigger Bengal leader than he actually he is. While to Delhi, Supriyo is BJP Bengal’s first Union minister and two-time Member of Lok Sabha who breaks out into songs in any and every TV interview, to Bengal, he’s far from a mass leader.
Electorally and organizationally, Supriyo did not hold sway over the masses as a BJP leader, as was demonstrated when he lost his seat in the assembly elections by over 50,000 votes. A loss of that margin, suffered by a sitting MP and Union minister, many say, was the final breaking point between Supriyo and the BJP.
However, Delhi’s perception of Supriyo, which is what creates his national perception, is what the TMC wanted to capitalize on.
While everyone and their cousin in Bengal would raise (valid) questions on Supriyo’s ability to garner votes or even his temperament to work with the party organization, Delhi was convinced that his induction into TMC was “as big as it could get”. Supriyo, who clearly did not have anything to gain from the BJP anymore, was happy to be offered a place next to Banerjee and in the TMC, as his former party’s organization in Bengal is seen to be collapsing. Leaders like Supriyo are ones with “ambition but little bargaining power”, said a party insider. “They are the best kind of people to be inducted. The party doesn’t need to offer or promise them much in terms of an organizational post. It just has to offer them a place so that their political career does not end.”
Since his induction, Supriyo has done what almost everyone in Bengal expected him to – sing songs for TMC during Mahalaya. This time however, the star singer, had to perform a song written and composed by Mamata Banerjee herself. For someone who’s sang to the tunes of Jatin-Lalit, Nadeem-Shravan and the lines, this playback assignment may not be the highlight of Supriyo’s career. But well, at least he has one.
With Mukul Roy, a founding member of the TMC, who quit to join the BJP, and then made his gharwaapsi to the TMC after the elections, the considerations were slightly different. By all parameters, Roy was known as one of TMC’s biggest leaders and a person responsible for a lot of the party’s organizational growth in its initial years. Moreover, Roy, who contested an election for the first time in two decades, won his seat as a BJP candidate, unlike Supriyo. As was evident while he was in the BJP, Mukul also still holds sway amongst a portion of TMC leaders and party workers. His return to the TMC, after being sidelined by the BJP, thus helps the party perceptionally – but more importantly, Roy’s organizational skills and liasioning is something that the TMC can use in Bengal as well as in states where it is looking to expand. When he was with the TMC earlier, Roy had also led the party’s (unsuccessful efforts) in Tripura and Meghalaya.
For those wondering, this is what set Roy apart from other TMC defectors like Rajib Banerjee, a former minister in the Mamata cabinet, who has since the elections made it clear that he wanted to make his way back to his former party. However, as is an open secret, the TMC has allegedly “left Banerjee hanging”.
Unlike Roy, Banerjee is also not considered to be a mass leader and was also not a big leader within the party organization when he quit. The sitting MLA from Domjur, Banerjee lost his seat this time when he fought on a BJP ticket. Thereafter, for the TMC, he’s become “very last year” as they say in the fashion world. And as we know, it is a cardinal sin to repeat old trends during festival season.
An interesting aspect of the TMC’s Bengal campaign was how it brought caste politics in Bengal out in the open. At the time, detractors warned of how “unlike Uttar Pradesh and Bihar”, voting in Bengal does not happen along caste lines. However, the party’s performance in the state’s SC/ST populated Junglemahal area shows that this approach bore fruit. This caste politics is something that the party plans to take into other states as well, especially in states where voting has “never happened on caste lines”. Apart from the usual soft-Hindutva usually practiced by most opposition parties in the country, this caste politics seems to be what TMC is banking on to capture Hindu votes.
In Goa, for example, which has a Hindu population of approximately 66 percent and a Christian population of approximately 25 percent, the party is reaching out to established leaders from the SC and ST communities. In the party’s first set of inductions from Goa, which saw former Congress Chief Minister and seven-time Goa MLA, Luizinho Faleiro, join its ranks, the TMC made it a point to mention that 7 out of 10 inductees were Hindus. On 13 October, an independent sitting MLA, Prasad Gaonkar, a member of a ST community, pledged his support to the TMC in Goa and said that he’ll join the party once his term as MLA is over. Sources in Goa say that other leaders from the SC community who have been approached by the party have also been told about their importance as leaders from the community.
“One way to convince such leaders is to get them to realise that they can emerge as bigger leaders with the TMC than they are with their current party. One way of doing this is to tell them that the approach we’ll be taking to fight the elections will be different from how elections in Goa have been fought till now. SC and ST representation will be at the core of our party organization and our campaign. Leaders from these communities need to realise that their representative identity will be highlighted a lot more here than in another party”, said a TMC leader privy to the party’s negotiations in Goa.
“The leaders from these communities, will now have a community identity apart from that of their party”, he added. These “community leaders” who are either unhappy or unsatisfied with their present dispensation are the ones TMC is looking at. The fact that caste equations and thereby caste equations have never been a premise for electoral and party appointments in Goa is what the party will play with.
3. Classic Congressis
As the TMC’s love-hate relationship with the Congress played out after the Bengal assembly polls, it became clear that the party would be more than willing to leave its doors open for established leaders from the Congress.
The strategic aspect of this is the fact that in almost all the states where the Congress has held power or is a credible opposition, the party has “dynastic Congressi families” that have their own mass base.
When poaching from the Congress, this is one of the first things that the TMC is looking at. A look at their inductees from the Congress makes this even clearer. Sushmita Dev, now a Rajya Sabha MP from the TMC, belongs to the family of former Congress Union Minister Santosh Mohan Dev and therefore has generational political goodwill (or bad will?) working for her in Assam. Similarly, Luizinho Faleiro, was one of the Congress’ oldest leaders in Goa with ties to Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. Other big names from the Congress that the TMC is said to have approached like Mukul Sangma in Meghalaya and Lalitesh Pati Tripathi in Uttar Pradesh have similar khandaani profiles.
Even Pradyot Manikya, who the TMC is talking to for an alliance in Tripura shares a similar background. Manikya, once a Congress leader, was the prince of Tripura and has now started his own party.
The internal factions in state Congress units across the country is what makes this easier. Especially as the Congress’ organization in these states fail, ostensibly and allegedly due to fallouts with the Delhi high command, and its established leaders start looking for another opposition umbrella under which to continue their politics.
4. "Merit” Only Please
On its part, though, the TMC has maintained that inductions into the party happen “only on merit”.
As the TMC’s campaign blitzkrieg in Goa began, reports stated that the party’s massive flexes and posters have convinced Goans – politicians and commonfolk alike- that the TMC has a “lot of money”. That apart, many also pointed out how Goa is a much richer state than Bengal and consequently the money that is put into elections there is also a lot more.
A report by Lokmat said that leaders at the panchayat level have asked for a “donation” of 1 crore and more to join the TMC. The report further stated that the party had responded to them by saying that inductions, if any, will be done after assessing the “mass base” of leaders. Thereafter, the party once again stated that inductions will only be done “only on the basis of merit”. But what is this merit?
Well, as per the TMC’s definition, meritorious leaders come in two forms:
1) The ones who can get votes (and other resources).
2) The ones respected in civil society and known to have taken a clear anti-BJP position.
In Goa, for example, the party has reached out to footballers, boxers, cricket players, actors, theatre artists, environmental activists and more. In fact, two of the TMC’s leaders Prasun Banerjee (a former footballer) and Manoj Tiwary (former cricketer) were camped in Goa for the express purpose of negotiating with the sporting community. Their first mehnat ka fal came in the form of legendary boxing administrator Lenny De Gama and footballer Denzil Franco, who joined the TMC earlier this month.
However, this does not mean that these are the only kind of people the party is talking to. In fact, the answer to who they’re talking to, is well, everybody! And it is also true, party sources confirm, that many prospective inductees have asked for “donations” to join the party as is the norm in Goa. However, like all Bengalis, the TMC has driven a hard bargain with them – sometimes on the question of whether or not to offer money at all and sometimes on the amount being asked for vis-à-vis the political standing of the inductee. Sources also confirm that multiple negotiations have also fallen through because the matter of money could not be settled upon.
What makes the TMC’s job slightly easier than that of us average festival shoppers is that they have a variety to choose from (and thereafter convince) to join their dharam-yuddh against the BJP. However, all of these purchases are being billed to the credit card that is Mamata Banerjee’s success against the saffron brigade. Will this credit card max out or will the party keep making repayments to sustain till 2024? As they say, in politics, nothing happens, till it happens.
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