Opposition in disarray? The messaging behind Trinamool Congress abstaining from the vice-presidential vote

The Opposition received a double jolt on Thursday when Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) announced that it would be abstaining fr...

The Opposition received a double jolt on Thursday when Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) announced that it would be abstaining from the upcoming vice presidential election, scheduled for 6 August.

The news came as the Opposition’s joint pick of Yashwant Sinha for the Presidential race lost out to the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) candidate, Droupadi Murmu, by huge margins — she received 64 per cent of all votes.

The Opposition had announced on 17 July that they had decided to field former Rajasthan governor Margaret Alva as their joint candidate for the poll against the NDA’s pick of former West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.

With this move, the TMC has laid bare the cracks in the Opposition’s unity and her party’s decision to abstain from the vice presidential vote will dent not only Margaret Alva’s chances, but also the Opposition’s coordinated fight against the ruling regime.

Following the news, National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah compared the unity of the opposition parties to the Greek mythological character ‘Chimera’ and said ultimately they will do what is in their own interest.

Why Mamata is abstaining from the vote?

On Thursday, Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee made the announcement that the TMC would abstain from the upcoming vice presidential election, as it did not agree with the way the Opposition candidate was decided without keeping the party in the loop.

The TMC’s national general secretary, Abhishek Banerjee, claimed that Alva was decided upon without proper consultation and deliberation with the TMC.

“We disagree with the process of announcing the Opposition candidate without keeping TMC in the loop. We were neither consulted nor was anything discussed with us. So we can’t support the Opposition nominee,” he said.

Banerjee said that on one hand, NDA’s candidate is Dhankhar, who was “completely biased” during his tenure as the state’s governor for the last three years, and on the other, Alva was chosen without any deliberation with TMC.
“Initially, it was said that Congress had called a meeting, and then the venue was shifted to NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s residence. A senior politician reached out to Mamata Banerjee but only after the meeting... this is not the way,” he said.

Derek O’Brien, a senior TMC leader, told NDTV that the party “couldn’t be taken for granted”.

In his interview to the television channel, he came down heavily on the Congress for the manner in which Alva was picked. “You call a meeting and then say there will be a press conference in 15 minutes... We are the second largest party in Parliament. We want to send a message to the Congress, which has a style of working. We have nothing against the person chosen.”

Mamata Banerjee was absent when the Opposition's choice Margaret Alva filed her nomination papers for the vice-presidential polls. PTI

Cracks in the Opposition’s unity

The TMC’s decision to stay away from the vice presidential vote has brought in criticism from the Congress and the Left.

It has also left everyone wondering what happens to the future of a ‘united’ Opposition, meant to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2024.

When asked about it, Abhishek Banerjee responded, “Opposition unity is not dependent on presidential and vice presidential elections. If you are really interested in Opposition unity, you have to rise above ego and self-interest. You can have Opposition unity through joint programmes on issues concerning the masses. But we need to change our approach.”

He further added that the TMC has the right to “ideologically differ” on the issue of candidate selection in the vice presidential poll.

“As per electoral arithmetic, TMC’s decision to abstain will not help the NDA candidate. It is our right to take a decision,” he said.

Analysts, however, differ on the matter; they opine that the decision taken by the TMC, which has been considered as a prime mover in the group, shows that their unity is in tatters.

The TMC’s turnaround on the vice-presidential candidate is a bitter pill for the Opposition as it was after Mamata’s initiative that they had rallied around the name of Yashwant Sinha as their Presidential candidate.

BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta, as per a report in The Print, said Opposition unity was in tatters. “The Trinamool has understood its range is only within Bengal and that it can’t do anything more. And the result is clear for everyone to see a fractured Opposition,” he added.

Some view Mamata’s decision as a calculated move on her part — she wants to distance the TMC from the Congress-led grouping and to project her party as a non-Congress alternative to the BJP.

With inputs from agencies

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