With Assam Congress leader Sushmita Dev joining the Trinamool Congress (TMC) along with a host of other senior Congress leaders from Tripura, it has become evident that the TMC is planning to make its foray into national politics through the north-eastern region.
Dev, who had been in the Congress for 30 years, joined the TMC on August 16. She is a Bengali leader in Assam’s Barak valley.
Recently, a series of Congress leaders, including former minister Prakash Das, former MLA Subal Bhowmik, Tripura Youth Congress working president Santanu Saha, among others, joined the TMC after the party announced its poll target in Tripura following its recent Bengal win. Tripura’s assembly polls are scheduled to be held in 2023.
The Barak valley is located in the southern region of Assam and consists mainly of three administrative districts: Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi. Among these three districts, Cachar and Hailakandi belonged to the ‘Kachari’ kingdom before the British Raj whereas Karimganj had belonged to the Sylhet district of the erstwhile Assam province. The province separated from Sylhet after the 1947 referendum, with the rest of Sylhet falling under East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and Karimganj, under India.
While Bengali is the official language of the Barak valley, more than 80% of the ethnic residents speak the Sylheti language. Hinduism is, marginally, the religion of the majority in the valley. According to the 2011 Census, the religious composition of the valley population is as follows: 50.1% (or 1,812,141 people) are Hindus, 48.1% (1,744,958) are Muslims, Christians account for 1.6% (58,675), while others make up 0.2%. Hindus are in the majority in Cachar (59.83%), while Muslims are in the majority in Hailakandi (60.31%) and Karimganj (56.26%). Senior leaders of the TMC are optimistic that, in the upcoming days, there will be more defections from other parties to the TMC in north-eastern states, which will help them strengthen their base in the region. Once they can strengthen their base in these states, it will be easy for them to lead the party from the front.
Moloy Ghatak, a TMC leader who went to Tripura a few days back, told “We have seen how our party leaders have been thrashed by BJP goons. Even our party’s general secretary, Abhishek Banerjee’s car was attacked. But we are not afraid. We will continue our protest demonstration despite BJP leadership making desperate attempts to stall all our programs.”
Sources within the TMC said that the party has already decided to highlight the scams of the Tripura government. The party has found various discrepancies in the recruitment of ‘Group C’ and ‘Group D’ government staff under the Tripura Joint Recruitment Board and they are going to protest against these illegal appointments at various TMC programmes that will be held in Tripura in the upcoming days.
Transparency in the exam for the Tripura Joint Recruitment Board for Group C and Group D has come into question, which BJP MLA Sudip Roy Barman had posted about on Facebook.
This was brought up recently by the TMC leader Kunal Ghosh, who, in a tweet, accused the BJP-led Tripura administration of being weak since a senior member of the party (referring to Burman) did not have the “opportunity to tell the chief minister about important matters” and had to vent on social media.
In Tripura, an Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) team has already been sent to make a ground survey for the party while from Assam, the TMC is sending their fact-finding teams to different north-eastern states to check the ground reality and explore possibilities for new alliances.
After the TMC’s landslide win in the assembly elections in Bengal, the party’s general secretary, Abhishek Banerjee, in his first press meet said ”Make no mistake, we are going to other states not just merely to pitch our tents, but we are going to grab power there.”
Another practice TMC started recently to make its national presence felt was to organise a number of press conferences in Delhi where national leaders, such as Derek O’Brien, Yashwant Sinha and Sukendu Sekhar Roy address the media on different national issues.
Sources in the TMC said that more leaders from the Congress’s Tripura unit are already in talks with the TMC leadership and have expressed their willingness to join the TMC. The TMC office in Tripura has been revamped and they are planning to take a big office in Tripura.
Moloy Ghatak, who went to Tripura recently with the TMC team said “Our team has been attacked by BJP leaders. Dola Sen, an MP of TMC has been attacked and when we went to lodge a complaint at the police station, they did not take our complaint. The members of the I-PAC team were not allowed to go outside the hotel in Tripura too. Our voice has been stifled. But we will continue our fight and we will continue our fight against BJP in Tripura to oust them from power.”
Sources in the TMC said that the party is trying to make the most of the dissension between the two feuding camps of the BJP, led by leaders Biplab Kumar Deb and Sudip Roy Barman respectively.
A senior leader of the TMC said that recently, at an organisation meeting of the BJP at Agartala, Sudip Roy Barman did not answer any of the media’s questions and left the place. Later, a BJP delegation led by national general secretary of the BJP, B.L. Santosh, who has been given charge of Tripura, along with the secretary of the north-east zone, Ajoy Jamwal, arrived in Tripura to sort out the differences between the disgruntled BJP MLAs.
Political analysts, however, are of the opinion that, emboldened by the success in the assembly elections in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is now eyeing the north-east.
According to Biswanath Chakraborty, senior political analyst and a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University, the TMC, emboldened by their success in the assembly polls in West Bengal, seems to have ventured into two-pronged strategies to increase their footprint as well as their relevance outside West Bengal.
On one hand, the TMC supremo has been increasingly liaising with other non-BJP parties and is becoming more and more visible in her political endeavours to stitch together a non-BJP alternative at the national level. On the other hand, the TMC seems to be eyeing the vacant, non-BJP political spaces in Assam, Tripura and other north-eastern states.
Neither of these actions are new for the TMC. Earlier also, before the last two general elections, Mamata Banerjee had tried to convince other parties to field only one non-BJP candidate to avoid the division of opposition votes, however, without much success. The TMC also contested the assembly elections in many north-eastern states and even in Delhi. The TMC MLAs later left the party and changed their political allegiances. This had also failed. This time, the effort looks like a more concerted and planned one. Only time will reveal the outcome.
It may be mentioned that the party has a limited presence in most of the north-eastern states except Sikkim and Mizoram. There was one TMC MLA in Khonsa in Arunachal Pradesh and one in Manipur, who later switched over to the BJP. The TMC also had one MLA in Meghalaya, who later turned independent. In Assam’s Bengali-dominated Barak valley, the TMC has a significant presence.
According to BJP leadership, despite the TMC’s effort to place their footprint in the north-eastern states, they will fail since people in the north-east are not in favour of the party’s policies. Therefore, their efforts are futile. It is unlikely that the TMC will play any role in Assam or any other north-eastern state.
Tinku Roy, president of the Tripura BJP said to The Wire, “Although TMC is desperately trying to grab power in Tripura, we are confident that they cannot make their presence in Tripura as Tripura residents are well aware of the drama of Mamata Banerjee government.”