Plagued by defections and a weak organisation, the Congress is staring at “political extinction” in West Bengal, even as CPI(M) claims that “such poachings have never happened before” in the state.
The two opposition parties have come down heavily on the rulling Trinamool Congress for “poaching into the opposition turf and taking away its legislators”.
After the last Assembly elections which gave a thumping majority to the Trinamool Congress, the party managed to take over almost all the Opposition-controlled municipalities and panchayats in the state, with Councillors and Panchayat members shifting to the TMC-fold from either Congress or Left Front constituents.
Since May 2016, five MLAs of Congress, including former PCC President Manas Bhunia and one from CPI(M) have switched over to TMC, bringing down the Opposition tally from 76 to 70 in the 294-member House.
“Several MLAs of Congress and Left Front are in touch with us. They want to join TMC and become part of this grand development that is going on under the stewardship of Mamata Banerjee,” TMC Vice President Mukul Roy told PTI.
However, none of the defected MLAs had officially resigned from their posts which would have necessitated a bypoll.
The Congress and CPI(M) had alleged that TMC was blocking flow of funds to Opposition-ruled municipalities and using money and muscle power along with police administration to poach into Opposition turf and take away its legislators.
The TMC which had won 211 MLAs in the last Assembly election and now has the support of six defected MLAs, claimed that it had not invited anybody to join their fold.
“The TMC wants to wipe out every sign of opposition from the state. It is for the first time that Congress is staring at political extinction in Bengal. We have been in opposition since 1977 but never did the CPI(M) try to poach on our MLAs or councillors. This is a new trend that TMC has started since coming to power in 2011,” a senior Congress leader told PTI.
Rabin Deb, state secretariat member of CPI(M), said “such things have never happened before”.
Ironically, BJP which has three MLAs and few Panchayat members in the state has remained unscathed from this trend of defection and poaching.
The Congress leader’s comment comes in the backdrop of senior TMC leader and nephew of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, Abhishek Banerjee’s announcement that there will be “no sign of Congress and CPI(M)’s political existence by the end of this year”.
Echoing Congress leaders, CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said such kind of poaching of opposition MLAs and forcible taking over of municipalities was a “dangerous sign for democracy”.
Giving vent to the helplessness to keep the opposition numbers intact in the Assembly and municipality, Leader of Opposition and senior Congress leader Abdul Mannan said, “What can we do if someone wants to switch over to some other party? If someone surrenders in front of money and muscle power what can we do? To whom shall we go to lodge a complaint?”
Mannan, however, said that he has decided to move the apex court seeking an amendment to the anti-defection law as TMC was poaching on opposition MLAs and other leaders by taking advantage of the “nitty gritty of the said law”.
State Congress President Adhir Chowdhury, whose stronghold Malda and Murshidabad have borne the maximum brunt of defection, told PTI, “The TMC cannot win these Assembly seats and municipalities, that is why they have resorted to poaching.
“I challenge them if they have the guts let them allow these MLAs to resign and win back these seats on a TMC ticket in a bypoll,” he said.
Of the seven municipalities in the district which were controlled by either Congress and CPI(M) after the 2015 municipal polls, TMC has taken over four municipalities with councillors of Left Front and Congress switching over to TMC in the last six months. The situation is same in Malda district too.
The TMC has also wrested the control of Murshidabad and Jalpaiguri Zilla Parishads from Congress and CPI(M). The TMC now controls all the 18 Zilla parishad of the state.
The only opposition-controlled municipal corporation in the state is now Left-run Siliguri Municipal Corporation.
“The TMC is using economic blockade on opposition controlled municipalities. Then they are using money and muscle power to force the councillors to join TMC . But they have not managed to make any inroads in Siliguri till now,” Siliguri Municipal Corporation Ashok Bhattacharya told PTI.
Senior TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee said, “The Congress’ decision to align with the CPI-M during the last Assembly poll had proved to be a ‘political harakiri’ as the rank and file of the Congress did not accept the alliance.
“By the end of this year there would be no sign of political presence of Congress and CPI(M) in Bengal as people have rejected this unholy alliance. And those who are joining TMC, want to be part of the development process started by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee,” he said.
According to Congress and TMC sources, several MLAs of Congress and CPI(M) are in touch with TMC and are likely to switch over to the rulling party by the end of this year.
Asked whether it was in sync with the principle and ethoes of political parties in Bengal, which has rarely witnessed such instances of public representatives switching to ruling dispensation in past, Mukul Roy countered, “It is not a question of moral values.
“If someone wants to come and join the development process how can you stop them? We are not forcing anyone to join TMC. Everybody is doing it on his/her own,” he said.
Ironically, BJP has remained unaffected by the trend of defection in the state.
“We have a very strong ideological base and committed party members and that is why we have been unaffected by poaching and defection. But we would like to say what TMC is doing with other opposition parties is totally undemocratic,” state BJP President Dilip Ghosh told PTI.
The opposition CPI(M) and Congress, however, said that it is due to the “political understanding” between the TMC and BJP over Saradha Chit Fund scam and Narada sting operation, which has stopped TMC from poaching on BJP MLAs and other public representatives of the party.