Mamata, Kejriwal signal a thaw, but TMC, AAP face long chill

When West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee last visited the national capital in November 2021, what made a bigger news than the string of her interactions with various leaders was the meetings that did not take place. Her meeting with Delhi CM and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal not fructifying was the most notable omission in Banerjee’s schedule calendar then, which reflected a strain in the relations between the two leaders, who always displayed remarkable bonhomie on multiple occasions in the past.

In 2015, when Kejriwal visited Parliament for the first time after becoming the CM, Banerjee played the role of a guide, taking him around its various landmarks such as its famed corridors and the iconic Central Hall. In subsequent years, the two leaders caught up with each other a number of times, including in July 2021, when Banerjee visited Delhi after spearheading her party to a resounding victory in the Bengal Assembly polls for the third consecutive time.

Soon afterwards though, in September 2021, when the TMC announced its plans to foray into the Goa Assembly polls, the equations between the two leaders started to change and get frosty. In the succeeding months, the ties between the TMC and the AAP appeared to get more strained with both parties vying to fill the Opposition space vacated by a diminished Congress at the centre-stage of national politics.

However, on Friday, the two CMs finally met again, as Banerjee arrived in Delhi to attend a joint conference of CMs and High Court Chief Justices, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Saturday.

While there was no official world on what transpired in the Mamata-Kejriwal meeting, which took place at TMC national general secretary and MP Abhishek Banerjee’s official residence, it came amid a flurry of political moves being taken by various Opposition players ahead of the upcoming Presidential polls.

The meeting also assumes significance as barely a month ago Banerjee had written to all non-BJP CMs, including Kejriwal, stressing on the need for ensuring a united front against the BJP-ruled central government’s alleged excesses. It is a different matter that the AAP leaders maintain that the idea of a united Opposition front does not enthuse their party.

In recent years the AAP has seen its stock rise in national politics significantly, with the party recently securing a stunning victory in the Punjab Assembly, polls, winning 92 out of the total 117 Assembly seats. The party’s tally in the Rajya Sabha has also risen to 8 MPs as compared to the TMC’s 13.

“For now, the AAP wants to chart its own path, away from all third front-type formations. The party feels that people consider it to be different from other parties with its clean, governance-centric image. It does not carry any baggage like others. The party has experimented with such formations in the past but it wants to focus on poll-bound states like Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh for now. Good performance in a few more states will automatically make it the fulcrum of Opposition politics,” a senior AAP leader said.

A few weeks ago, the AAP inducted former Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar, who had joined the TMC in the presence of Banerjee last November. Tanwar attributed his defection to the TMC’s “lack of drive for expansion in Haryana”.

In the Goa polls, while the TMC could not win any seat despite its much-hyped electioneering, the AAP bagged two seats. Meanwhile, away from its high-decibel campaign for the upcoming HP and Gujarat elections, the AAP has also quietly launched a state-wide membership drive in Bengal. Recently, there was also report of a clash between the TMC workers and the AAP volunteers in Bengal’s Barasat on the outskirts of Kolkata.

A TMC leader said: “The Goa episode did change the equations but it was inevitable as both the parties attempt to expand their national footprint. But there is no strong bitterness as such. One must note that even recently the TMC vocally spoke against the Delhi municipal amendment Bill in Parliament. The two parties will continue to raise issues such as the Centre’s assault on the federal structure while charting their own independent ways electorally.”

However, after Goa, Assam could be another state where competing for political space the TMC and the AAP might collide. Both the parties are keen on making inroads in the Northeastern state. The AAP recently made it presence felt in the Guwahati Municipal Corporation polls by winning one ward, even as the main Opposition Congress drew a blank. On its part, the TMC recently appointed its latest inductee from the grand old party, Ripun Bora, the ex-Assam Congress chief, as its state unit president.

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