Mr P. Chidambaram — widely known as PC — is someone I have known for long, and with whom I share a personal regard and affection. I am constrained, however, to publicly set the record straight with regard to an important interaction with him, which is a matter of public interest.
In the last week, PC has appeared on several TV channels, and other media platforms, to say that the Congress party did not receive a “concrete” offer for an alliance from the TMC with regard to the ongoing Goa Assembly elections. This, as I will endeavour to argue, is far from the truth.
On December 24, 2021, I sent, in my capacity as national vice-president of the TMC, a message to PC for a meeting to discuss an urgent and important proposal. He was gracious enough to give me time that very day, and I met him at 1.30 pm at his residence in Lodi Estate. In that meeting I put forward to him the concrete proposal for an alliance between the TMC and the Congress. I made the point that Opposition unity is of the greatest importance, and that both parties need to set aside any past misunderstandings, grievances and misgivings, and rise to the occasion unitedly, thereby demonstrating the required strategic flexibility to meet the common and focused goal of defeating the BJP. I further said that our internal surveys show that if both parties join hands, we would, indeed, be able to achieve that goal.
In response, PC told me that a decision in this matter is “beyond my level”, and that he would have to inform his party’s “leadership”. One would have assumed that as a former Union finance and home minister, and one of the senior-most leaders of the Congress party, PC would have, as the Goa in charge, be able to himself take a view in the matter. But be that as it may, PC took the proposal to Rahul Gandhi, and called me next day to say that he had done so. He further told me that RG’s response was that the two “principals” of the parties — Mamata Banerjee and Sonia Gandhi — needed to directly communicate with each other to proceed further.
The two principals did do that. Sonia Gandhi’ response to Mamata Banerjee — as I learnt from impeccable sources within my party, and is something on record — was that she would have to consult with her senior leaders before taking a final decision on the proposal. Rahul Gandhi was abroad by this time, and no response was forthcoming. I spoke more than once with PC on the need for a timely reply. Finally, once RG returned, I told PC that now at least he should try and expedite a response from the “principal” of his party. None ever came.
For PC to say later that his party had not received a “concrete” offer from the TMC, is, therefore, to put it bluntly, an untruth. If there was no such “concrete” proposal, why would he have taken it to his “leadership”, both verbally, and in the form of a written note, as he himself informed me? Why would the Congress have wanted the proposal to be discussed at the highest levels of the two parties? Why would the two principals have communicated with each other? The truth is that this was as “concrete” a proposal as there can be. Details such as seat sharing, and other modalities of fighting the election in alliance, would have followed, should the Congress have agreed.
The fact is that Mamata Banerjee, rising above narrow party considerations, sought to strengthen and unify the Opposition space against the BJP, and the Congress said no. It is true that there were grievances in both parties. The Congress, reportedly, was unhappy at what it called the “poaching” of Congress leaders and workers in Goa by the TMC. I had tried to explain to PC that when Congress members, disillusioned with their party’s performance, including in 2017 when the bulk of its MLAs migrated to the BJP, wish to voluntarily join a more robust Opposition party, it cannot be called “poaching”. Equally, the TMC too had serious reservations on Congress conduct. In the West Bengal Assembly elections last year, the Congress fought against the TMC, even when it was aware of the need to defeat the BJP which had deployed all its strength and resources to come to power. Adhir Ranjan Choudhary of the Congress, who is the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, had mounted a personal and abusive attack on Mamata Banerjee, and his party’s leadership did not think it advisable to restrain him. The fact of the matter is that Mamata Banerjee, overarching past acrimonies and differences, had the vision and the courage of conviction to make a plea for greater Opposition unity, while the Congress remained marooned in its self-created silo.
It cannot be the Congress’ case that no other Opposition party can have the audacity to enter a space that the Congress considers its birthright. In a democracy, all political parties can strive to expand their footprint, and the TMC, indeed, has the avowed goal of emerging as the principal Opposition to the BJP. If the Congress thinks that it is its ordained right to usurp this role, then it must seriously introspect. Since 2012, till now, the Congress, with its present organisation and leadership, has lost over 90 per cent of the elections it has fought against the BJP. If, on a verifiable basis, it has not been able to effectively play its role as the principal Opposition party, and shows little signs of changing, it cannot be its case that no other leader or party should dare to do so.
Our country today needs an effective and robust Opposition to counter the anti-people, regressive and divisive policies of the BJP. So long as the Opposition is fractured and ineffective, the BJP will continue to have a walk-over. It is the TMC’s intention to change this state of affairs. It was in that spirit that the party had made the offer to the Congress to form an alliance in Goa, and if the Congress had agreed, it could have been a template for similar cooperation nationally as well. Alas, the Congress did not see the logic of this proposal, and with due apologies to Mr Chidambaran, mistook the concrete for the ephemeral.