Gloves are off as Congress hits back at Mamata, Prashant Kishor on Opposition unity

From calling Congress incompetent to saying there is no UPA, Mamata has been vocal in her criticism so as to wrest the Opposition leadership space.
Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi (L) and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee (File photo| AFP and PTI)
Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi (L) and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee (File photo| AFP and PTI)

NEW DELHI:  With West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee making pointed attacks on the Congress, the latter began giving it back in equal measure, with the charge led by its young leaders to start with.

From calling Congress incompetent to saying there is no UPA, Mamata has been vocal in her criticism so as to wrest the Opposition leadership space.

At her recent meeting with NCP chief Sharad Pawar in Mumbai, she is learnt to have floated the idea of regional parties forming an Opposition alliance and making seat arrangements for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, while bringing the Congress to the table after the polls, sources said. 

Separately, her strategist Prashant Kishor took a swipe at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, calling for democratically electing the Opposition leadership, adding it was not the “divine right of an individual”.

Congress leaders this newspaper spoke to said the party will drop its restraint and take on the Trinamool based on facts, though seniors would stay out for now.              

The counterattack has already begun with party MPs Manickam Tagore, Sayeed Naeer Hussain and others saying Mamata has no business commenting on the UPA. A senior leader said Congress is the principal opposition party with around 20% vote share in the 2019 elections.

“The Trinamool Congress is limited to Bengal. They went chest-thumping in Tripura but we saw the results in the local body polls. Goa Assembly results would further clear the air,” the leader said.

Also on Thursday, poll strategist Prashant Kishor called for democratically electing the opposition leadership and said the space represented by the Congress was vital but its leadership is not the "divine right of an individual" particularly when it has lost 90 per cent elections in the last 10 years, in an apparent swipe at Rahul Gandhi.

Hitting back after the sharp comments by Banerjee and Kishor, whose remarks are seen by many as an attempt to push TMC's bid to assume the leadership of the Opposition bloc ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress accused the West Bengal Chief Minister of speaking different languages at different times, and dubbed it as "political expediency".

Asserting that there is a difference between political opportunism and the fight for the truth, which the Congress is fighting, Congress general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said,"you cannot by sheer political opportunism proceed to strengthen the very fascist forces, represented by the RSS and the BJP, that you are pretending to fight.

" "Political opportunism may be good for some people or parties, but for us, Indianness and our country, democracy and brotherhood, and our compassion and article of faith are the ones on which the Congress has never compromised," Surjewala told reporters.

He accused Banerjee of speaking different languages at different times and recalled how she had sided with the BJP and switched sides between the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) several times in the past.

"For her, it can be political expediency, but for us fighting the BJP and the RSS is close to us," he said.

Surjewala also recalled Banerjee's statement on August 20 that all political forces have to come together to save democracy in the country and it would not be possible when one stands in support of the BJP.

The Congress leader hit out at the TMC for fighting against the Congress in Goa and Uttarakhand.

The Congress is large-hearted and sacrifices to take other parties along with it, Surejwala said, adding that political parties should think if they are not supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi with their actions.

"Is Mamata not doing the same as Modi ji is doing. Modi ji is buying legislators and so is Mamata ji. Modi ji is breaking parties and so is Mamata ji doing in breaking parties. The inspiration that Mamata ji once had from Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, it seems she has made fascism her inspiration now. Hope she has not taken on the same path," Surjewala asked.

On Wednesday, Banerjee met NCP supremo Sharad Pawar in Mumbai and called for fighting the BJP unitedly while taking barely veiled swipes at the Congress leadership.

While Banerjee made remarks like "there is no UPA now" and one can not achieve anything by staying abroad "most of the time", Pawar said leadership was not an issue at present and all like-minded parties were welcome to join the fight against the BJP.

Defending Banerjee's statement that there is "no UPA", TMC MP, Derek O' Brien said factually, there has been no United Progressive Alliance for the last 10 years since there has been no governance happening under the coalition government Amid the tussle over the leadership of the Opposition bloc to take on the BJP in 2024, Kishor tweeted, "The IDEA and SPACE that Congress represents is vital for a strong opposition. But Congress' leadership is not the DIVINE RIGHT of an individual especially when the party has lost more than 90% elections in last 10 years."

"Let opposition leadership be decided Democratically," he added.

Kishor and his I-PAC team have been working for the TMC since the assembly polls in West Bengal and are working on strategies in expanding the party nationally.

Kishor's remarks come at a time the TMC has made a conscious effort to not follow Congress' leadership of the opposition in Parliament and questioned the party's ability to take on the BJP.

A few months ago, Kishor had held talks with the Congress leadership over his possible induction into the party.

He had also met former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and there was serious talk over his entry into the grand old party but it did not materialise.

Kishor had taken potshots at the Congress two months ago as well, saying those looking for a quick revival of the opposition led by the grand old party following the Lakhimpur Kheri incident are in for a big disappointment as there are no quick-fix solutions to its "deep-rooted problems".

Earlier in the day, Congress leader Kapil Sibal, a prominent member of the 'group of 23' that wrote to Sonia Gandhi seeking large scale organisational overhaul in the party, called for opposition unity and said the UPA without the Congress will be a body without a soul.

His party colleague Anand Sharma, another 'G-23' member, said the Congress was the main national opposition party and remains a central pillar for a collective national effort.

He favoured a broad-based understanding and cooperation among secular, progressive and democratic political parties on people's issues to defeat the BJP.

"That is the need of the hour. That will connect with people's expectations."

The TMC and the Congress have been growing distant of late, with the Mamata Banerjee-led party poaching the latter's leaders in several states in the recent past.

The two parties have further distanced with the TMC not attending the opposition meetings convened by the Congress over opposition unity in Parliament.

(With PTI Inputs)

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