Leaders of the Opposition INDIA bloc put up a united face after their two-day meeting in Mumbai on Friday, but the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is said to be unhappy with the failure to decide on a timeline for a seat-sharing agreement. Some other parties — including the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Samajwadi Party (SP), and the Janata Dal (United) — also want a seat-sharing pact to be decided at the earliest.
TMC chairperson and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not attend a joint press conference addressed by the alliance leaders after the meeting. Banerjee and Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee, her nephew, left the venue for the airport soon after the meeting was over. Senior TMC leader Derek O’Brien also did not attend the press conference. At the meeting, both Abhishek and O’Brien argued that the most pressing issue before the parties was seat sharing and it should be taken up first.
Sources said while the TMC remains “committed to the INDIA alliance” it wants seat sharing to be decided at a “faster pace”. The party, sources said, was of the view that the meeting should have put a timeline by which the seat-sharing talks should be completed.
Sources said AAP convener and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, too, was of the view that seat sharing was the priority. He is learnt to have argued that seat-sharing discussion should be taken up as soon as possible. The Congress, sources said, was looking at the possibility of the alliance fielding candidates in 440 of the 545 seats, barring Punjab, Kerala, and West Bengal.
Sources told The Indian Express that the political rivalry between INDIA’s constituents in Kerala and West Bengal — the TMC, Left, and Congress in Bengal, and Left and Congress in Kerala — had led to the inclusion of the phrase “as far as possible” in the alliance’s resolution on fighting the elections together.
The third meeting of the INDIA bloc — the first two were held in Patna and Bengaluru — passed a resolution that read, “We, the INDIA parties, hereby resolve to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections together as far as possible…”
A senior leader who attended the meeting said considering the “unpredictability” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision-making process, the parties agreed to finalise seat sharing by the end of September and begin their preparations. “The discussion was in the context of the special Parliament session called by the Union government in mid-September,” the leader said.
“Kerala is governed by the Left Front and the Congress is the main Opposition. It is impossible to ask the Left Front to not contest seats currently held by the Congress. The state has negligible BJP presence and in case of a fight between the Congress and the Left, the beneficiary would be the INDIA Front in the end,” said a senior leader.
The leader confirmed that Mamata Banerjee and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury had an exchange on the seat-sharing arrangement in West Bengal. “The relations between the workers of two parties have gone terribly sour. Seat-sharing will be difficult and therefore, the possibility of these two parties contesting against each other remains,” the leader said.
According to sources, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said in the meeting that his party would be flexible during seat-sharing talks with regional parties and try to incorporate all. The assurance was given in response to Kejriwal’s praise for Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge for the party’s supportive stand against the Delhi services law.
Sources said leaders of the JD(U), SP, and RJD were also of the view that seat sharing should be taken up on priority. The TMC, according to some, believes that the Congress perhaps wants to “go slow” at the instance of the Left. Sources in the Left said the TMC should take a “practical view” and not force parties to rush into clinching a seat-sharing pact as the dynamics vary from state to state.
TMC seeks more time on caste census
Sources said the meeting saw the socialist parties — RJD, JD(U), and SP — seek a discussion on the issues to be raised during the special session of Parliament later this month. The parties were keen that the Opposition corner the government on the issue of holding a caste census. Banerjee however said her party needs some time to firm up its view.
Sources in the TMC said the party was not against caste census but was against “religious colour” being brought into it. “We have no issue with caste census as long as it doesn’t get into a religious spin. We will study the issue in the next two weeks and get back … There is still some time for the special session,” a senior TMC leader said when asked whether Banerjee struck a discordant note on the call for a caste census.
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