Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s reluctance to let party MLAs in Tripura voice their grievances and her “authoritarian” decision to respond to opposition leader Sudip Roy Barman’s letters with a show-cause notice was the immediate trigger for six Congress MLAs to switch their allegiance to Trinamool Congress, Barman told The Sunday Guardian in an exclusive conversation.
Barman said the high command’s decision to align with the Left parties in West Bengal had frustrated the party’s state unit in Tripura, where it continues to be locked in a close bipolar contest with the CPM. He also alluded to Rahul Gandhi’s apparent inept leadership, terming his solidarity with scholars in the Left bastion JNU, who were arrested for sedition, as “unnecessary”.
“One cannot imagine the magnitude of atrocities committed on the Congress cadre by CPM in both West Bengal and Tripura. Innumerable members of the Congress party have been killed. Our women have been raped. We have been living as second class civilians in the state. The CPM hates the Congressmen in Tripura. What prompted them to join hands with CPM in West Bengal?” Barman questioned, adding the high command never expressed the wish to hear the reservations of the Congress cadre and leadership in Tripura.
Barman said the alliance with the Left was not justified by the pursuit of any “greater cause” and it sent out the message to the cadre that the Congress is a “power-monger” party. “The formation of alliance in West Bengal was devoid of agenda. It was not to help a greater cause. We had obeyed the high command and adjusted ourselves in 2004 when the Left extended support from outside to the Central government because it was for a greater cause. It enabled the formation of UPA 1 and the BJP was ousted. But in West Bengal, the high command cannot even say that it wanted to oust ‘communal forces’ as the BJP is a marginal player there,” Barman told this correspondent, describing the Congress-Left alliance as “sheer opportunism”.
Sources in the Tripura Congress Pradesh Committee said the party MLAs lack access to the high command and in the absence of any representation of their grievances to either the Congress president or the vice president, gambling began to reach out to other parties. Barman said his letters to Sonia Gandhi did not elicit any response.
“I had sent three letters to the honourable Congress president in the capacity of a leader of opposition and as CLP (Congress Legislative Party) leader. We expected that they will be sending some representatives to Tripura or some of our leaders will be called for a discussion in New Delhi. But, nothing happened.When I sent a fourth letter, I was, of-course, served a show-cause notice,” Barman said.
Apparently, Rahul Gandhi’s solidarity with JNU students accused of sedition also did not go down well with the party, which had been fighting the Left over its alleged anti-national agendas. “Communist dominated student groups give slogans like Bharat ke barbadi tak jung rahegi (we will keep fighting till India is destroyed). Why did Rahul Gandhi go to JNU? It gave a sorry impression... Although there is no question mark on the nationalistic approach of the Gandhi family, Rahul’s move was not appreciated. In fact, it invited such a backlash from the BJP that he was compelled to give a statement that nationalism runs in his blood. A 130-year-old party had to justify its allegiance to the nation,” Barman said in a clear reference to Rahul’s naive decisions in politics.
A source in the TPCC said the MLAs refused an offer from the BJP leaders to join them. “We had the option to join the BJP. Big leaders of the RSS, big shot leaders from the Assam unit of the BJP, including Himanta Biswa Sharma, contacted the CLP leader to join the BJP. Had we joined the BJP, we would have got the organisational support and monetary assistance, but we did not. We never wanted to humiliate the Congress or gain ourselves politically. That was not the reason. We defected to the TMC as we saw there was no democratic space available in the Congress,” the source said.
There is also the anguish in Congress’ Tripura unit that the central leaders have always used it for bargaining. “In 1993, president’s rule was imposed just 48 hours before the Assembly elections in order to please the CPM. At that point of time, the Congress party was running a minority government in the Centre. The CPM had indicated to the Congress that they will not allow the Budget to be passed until and unless president’s rule was imposed in Tripura. Without any reason, their will was imposed in Tripura. That time also we accepted the decision as that was for a greater cause. Now, in order to gain in West Bengal, the Central leadership is okay in stifling us in Tripura,” the TPCC source said.
Barman concluded the defection will reduce the Congress into a “microscopic entity” in the state. “Till now, even in the last elections held in 2013, the Congress got 46% vote share. The party has not got this kind of vote share anywhere else in the country, including in states where it is in power. Now that we have defected, Congress will be a microscopic entity here with a vote share of less than 2%. The high command will feel the heat once the 2018 elections come and the votes are counted,” he predicted.
On Tuesday, six Congress MLAs—Sudip Roy Barman, Biswabandhu Sen, Dibachandra Hrangkhawal, Asish Saha, Dilip Sarkar and Pranjit Singha Roy—informed Speaker Ramendra Debnath in writing that they were leaving the Congress and joining the TMC. The defection robs the Congress of its principal opposition party status in the Manik Sarkar led state, reducing its numbers from 10 to four in a house of 60, where the CPM enjoys an overwhelming majority with 50 MLAs. The Trinamool, now the second largest party, has staked claim to be recognised as the principal opposition.
The Tripura development was the third major setback for the Congress in a span of a few days after former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi decided to form his own outfit and AICC general secretary Gurudas Kamat announced he is quitting active politics. The defection comes less than a month after Congress lost power in Assam and Kerala and its alliances in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu could not oust the incumbents.